The winter travel season is upon us – and the pandemic isn't over. With a number of European countries recently classified as "very high risk," your to-do list for winter travel just got a little longer. It now includes monitoring travel advisories and CDC updates on a regular basis – and perhaps changing plans.
The Four-Level System for Travel Health Notices
CDC Travel Health Notices (THNs) are meant to alert and protect travelers, as well as create awareness of threats related to health and travel anywhere in the world.
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The levels reflect the likelihood of COVID transmission and are determined by the number of new cases reported per 100,000 people over the past 28 days:
- Level 4: Very high COVID-19 level. Avoid all travel.
- Level 3: High level of COVID -19. Avoid nonessential travel.
- Level 2: Moderate level of COVID-19. Unvaccinated travelers are at increased risk.
- Level 1: Low levels of COVID-19.
- Level unknown: the destination has not provided data. Follow Level 4 recommendations.
The CDC recommends that all travelers should be fully vaccinated. The CDC's scale is similar to the model used by the U.S. Department of State, but both resources should be consulted when considering travel.
If your travel to a Level 4 or Level 3 country is nonessential, it may be wise to rethink this winter's destination.
Level 4: Very High-Risk Cities in Europe
In recent weeks, several popular European travel destinations have been added to the CDC's highest-risk category, Level 4. The most recently classified Level 4 countries are listed below in order of the number of confirmed cases per 100,000 as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).
These are in addition to the countries added in late fall: Belgium, Netherlands, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine. Others, like the United Kingdom, have been at Level 4 for months.
Level 3 Countries in Europe
Several popular destinations for winter travel in Europe are within the Level 3: High-Risk category for travel:
These are just five of more than 60 countries currently listed as Level 3. Cases in France are currently rising, and some areas in Italy and Spain have a higher concentration of cases than others. Poland is currently reporting the fifth-highest number of new weekly cases at over 147,000 during the third week in November. COVID numbers are on the move and differ from region to region, so when considering travel, check frequently.
Consider also: Can Americans Travel to Mexico Now?
Can You Travel to a Level 4 Country?
If travel isn't strictly prohibited by the U.S. Department of State and you decide to travel to a high-risk destination, there are crucial steps to take. The examples linked below are for the Czech Republic, but similar pages will exist for any country on the list.
- Visit the U.S. Embassy page for the country for up-to-date information on who is being let in and what the criteria are for entry. This will also give you an idea of what businesses and attractions are open.
- Check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
Ministry of Health pages to confirm entry rules.
- Check an official travel and tourism page.
- Note the country's COVID testing rules. Ensure you receive the correct test in the required timeframe.
- Know facemask requirements. Some countries require specific face coverings.
- Learn whether quarantine, curfew or other restrictions are in place for new arrivals to the country.
- Find out what the fines or penalties are for non-compliance.
- Determine exactly what you'll need to do to get back into the U.S. from the Level 4 country and what domestic restrictions you will encounter upon your return.
If the travel is nonessential, you can see why recommendations against leisure travel are in place. In addition to higher risk, your winter travel to these countries comes with restrictions and additional costs. At the very least, you'll be paying for additional COVID testing on either side of each flight.
Other potential expenses include quarantine time, additional hotel nights and medical emergencies. If the country is also a Level 4 travel advisory according to the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. government may have limited liability to provide you assistance.
Consider also: Do I Need a COVID Passport?
Consider Travel Carefully
If your travel to a Level 4 or Level 3 country is nonessential, it may be wise to rethink this winter's destination. If, despite the new warnings, you head for a European destination, research early and thoroughly. And prepare to be flexible, incur additional costs and encounter unexpected changes.
Consider also: How to Keep Your COVID Vaccine Card Safe
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC): COVID-19 Travel Recommendations by Destination
- U.S. Department of State: Travel.State.Gov
- World Health Organization (WHO): Coronavirus Dashboard
- CDC: COVID-19 Travel Recommendations (by date)
- The New York Times: Tracking Coronavirus in the United Kingdom
- CDC: How CDC Determines the Level for COVID-19 Travel Health Notices