US eases travel recommendations on 110 countries, territories including S'pore and Japan

A November 2020 photo shows a Japan Airlines agent checking in a passenger at Los Angeles International Airport in California. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has eased travel recommendations for more than 110 countries and territories, moving Singapore to its safest level and revising guidance on Japan just ahead of the Olympics.

The CDC's new ratings, posted on a CDC website on Monday (June 7), include 61 nations that were lowered from its highest Level 4 rating that discouraged all travel. Another 50 countries and territories were lowered to Level 2 or Level 1, a CDC spokesman said on Tuesday.

The guidelines recommend all travellers to any destination to first be fully vaccinated. The Level 3 rating advises all unvaccinated individuals against non-essential travel to those countries. Level 2 states that unvaccinated individuals who are at increased risk for severe illness from Covid-19 should avoid non-essential travel, while Level 1 - the rating for countries deemed the safest for travel - says anyone fully vaccinated can go.

Countries ranked lowest for Covid-19 risks now include Singapore, Israel, South Korea, Iceland, Belize and Albania.

Among those now listed at Level 3 are France, Ecuador, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Honduras, Hungary and Italy.

A US State Department official said it was in the process of revising its travel advisory to reflect the CDC changes. As of early on Tuesday, the State Department had lowered its ratings on more than 90 countries and territories, including for Japan.

On May 24, the State Department had urged against travel to Japan, citing a new wave of coronavirus cases before the Tokyo Olympics are set to begin July 23.

The State Department warning raised concerns and prompted the White House to reaffirm its support for Tokyo's plan to hold the Games this summer and for US athletes competing there despite a new wave of infections and low vaccination rate in the host country.

Foreign spectators have been banned, and organisers are expected to make a decision late this month on domestic spectators.

The CDC said the change comes after it revised its criteria for travel health notices. The CDC said it has also revised its rating for the United States to Level 3 from Level 4.

The agency said the new criteria for a Level 4 "avoid all travel" recommendation had changed from 100 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 to 500 cases per 100,000.

The agency added that many countries had lower ratings "because of the criteria changes or because their outbreaks are better controlled". The CDC said it expects more countries to get lower, more favourable travel ratings.

Many of the countries that now have lower ratings remain on the US government's list of countries subject to severe travel restrictions - and most have been subject to the restrictions since early 2020.

The United States bars nearly all non-US citizens who have within the previous 14 days been to China, Britain, Ireland, India, South Africa, Brazil, Iran and the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls.

Asked why the United States is maintaining the warnings even though some countries now have low infection rates subject to the restrictions, while others with high rates are exempt, CDC director Rochelle Wallensky said on Tuesday that the issue is subject to "an interagency conversation, and we are looking at the data in real time as to how we should move forward with that".

The United States also has been in discussions with Canada and Mexico - both of which had recommendations eased on Tuesday - on how to eventually lift or revise restrictions at US land borders that bar non-essential travel.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and Britain to determine how best to safely restart travel, a White House official said on Tuesday.

Another US official said the administration would not move quickly to lift orders that bar people from much of the world from entering the United States because of the time it will take for the groups to do their work.

Here are some key countries and territories now on each level of travel guidance on the US CDC scale.

Level 4 "very high" Covid-19 risk alert

Guidance: Avoid travel to these destinations. If you must travel to these places, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel.

Countries: Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Iraq, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sweden

Level 3 "high" alert

Guidance: Make sure you are fully vaccinated before travelling to these destinations. Unvaccinated travellers should avoid non-essential travel to these destinations.

Countries: Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom

Level 2 "moderate" alert

Guidance: Make sure you are fully vaccinated before travelling to these destinations. Unvaccinated travellers who are at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19 should avoid non-essential travel to the these destinations.

Countries: Bhutan, Cambodia, Finland, Guam, Kenya, Mauritius, Uganda

Level 1 "low" alert

Guidance: Make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel to these destinations.

Countries/territories: Australia, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam

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