The April 2 CDC easing of travel recommendations for fully immunized Americans is being misreported and misconstrued. It’s definitely a positive step for those anxious to travel as well as a clear indication that America is moving towards pre-pandemic normalcy but it’s hardly the “landmark move” for travelers being reported abroad.
The CDC change is that American travelers returning from destinations such as Africa who carry proof of immunization no longer have to quarantine following their return.
This is great, and expected. But travelers still have to provide a negative PCR test taken at the destination from which they return, and within 72 hours of having arrived home.
More importantly, the CDC recommendations regarding undertaking the travel in the first place did not change. Almost all the countries in the world remain on CDC’s “Do-Not-Travel-To” list.
The main reason for not traveling now, as the CDC explains is that “even fully vaccinated travelers are at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading new COVID-19 variants.”
So in those areas with known variants, such as South Africa and Brazil, the CDC’s recommendation against traveling there are even stronger.
Hopefully this will also change. As I reported last week, each new bit of science suggests that the current Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in particular are protective against variants. Provided that the remaining pandemic doesn’t spin out of such control that so much variant creation occurs that versions ultimately do arise that aren’t protected, we should see the CDC moderate even further this concern.
Foreigners often fail to understand the distinction between the U.S. State Department’s travel advice and the more recent travel advice now available from the CDC.
Neither agency, the State Department or the CDC, has ever had the power over its citizens’ travel that other places like the UK do.
UK travel insurance companies are bound by UK law to the travel advice
of the government. So if the government declares South Africa, for example, unsafe for travel, no UK travel insurance remains valid for travel there.
Moreover, UK law mandates refunds or other fungible credits from all the travel suppliers involved the trip that aborts as a result of UK government travel advice.
This determination of the risk of travel and mandating of repayment is an effective underwriting by the government and results in remarkably cheap policies relative to America’s, for example. It’s also a virtual on/off valve of travel to specific destinations. UK citizens abort their trips at the drop of the hat when the government declares an area unsafe for travel.
And they grab their prepacked bag and jump on a plane the minute that restriction is lifted, because there is no serious risk of financial loss.
For years and years I guided travel to Kenya during the same years and years that our government placed numerous travel warnings on Kenya. I believed it safe and I grew to learn that many of the U.S. travel warnings were as political as practical for traveling.
Until very recently I advised travelers to carefully compare American State Department travel advice with that from similar agencies from other countries like Canada and the UK which I considered far more useful.
Warnings and cautions regarding travel were the purvey of the State Department. They were never issued by the CDC until this pandemic. The CDC did issue excellent travel advice regarding recommended vaccinations and the state of health and disease in areas all over the world.
But it never told people not to travel some place, like it does, now.
I’m glad the CDC has assumed this new responsibility, because it will be a very long time, and over many different administrations, before the State Department’s travel advice and warnings gain the neutral credibility of other western governments.
Be that as it many, neither agency or any other for that matter has the power over American citizens’ travel that is common with most other modern governments.
So for what it’s worth right now the CDC says it’s safer for the individual health of an immunized traveler to travel, but still not recommended to almost all the places in the world.
And for right now the reason for the CDC caution is the lack of enough confidence that existing vaccines are effective enough to prevent the spread of the variants, even among immunized travelers.
Jim, it’s a very common misunderstanding, but you have it wrong about UK travel advice issued by the FCO (now the FCDO). It has never had any “power over its citizens’ travel” and its advice is purely advice, and always has been. UK travel insurers often choose to adhere to it, but there is no legal obligation on them to do so. They are free to insure for any risks they choose, which they have continued to do since the start of the pandemic. There’s a good number of travel insurers who will cover you to travel to countries where the UK FCDO advise against travel. Currently, of course, the UK has a law against leisure travel: “It is illegal to travel abroad from the UK for holidays”. That is another matter, but again, it has nothing to do with insurance.
Richard Trillo, East Africa, Manager, Expert Africa
Thanks so much for this very important clarification, but precisely because of (1) the controversial “Leisure Travel” law and (2) the fact that the vast majority of UK suppliers adhere to the FOC advice, the effect of the British government is manifold, and far more important to the travel decisions of Brits than their government is to us Yanks. The most recent Lewis Harris poll of British travelers (admittedly a bit old now) confirms this. More importantly, the market price for the “standard” travel insurance affirms it as well, a price generations less than in other countries. So while you are exactly correct and I thank you for fine tuning this point, the effect of the FOC vis-a-vis British travel is light years more important than in other countries, like the U.S. Fortunately from my own point of view, the FOC has been reliable and fair throughout my career.