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COVID Travel: Should You Travel in 2021? Should You Cancel or Make Plans?

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COVID-19 caused travel chaos: As 2021 begins, here’s a summary of where we are.

Injections of Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca, as well as Chinese, Indian, and Russian vaccines have started in dozens of countries, giving the world hope for 2021. While clinical trials show the vaccines are very effective at preventing illness, it’s not yet known if they prevent the spread of the virus, a key factor for allowing normal life to resume. Despite the vaccines, health experts warn that COVID protection measures—masks, distancing, and avoiding nonessential travel—will still be needed for most of 2021, if not longer, until herd immunity around the world is achieved through mass immunization.

Infection rates continue to rise, exacerbated by new more contagious strains of the virus, holiday gatherings, travel, and insufficient lockdown measures. Many hospitals, including in the U.S., are overwhelmed with COVID patients. Several countries—particularly in western Europe—are in new or strengthened lockdowns, expected to last at least until the end of January. Due to the new virus strains, flight cancelations to and from the U.K. and South Africa began in December 2020 and continue into 2021. 

The handful of countries that have COVID under control—New Zealand and Taiwan, for example—have been able to almost fully restart their economies, showing that prioritizing public health allows social and economic lives to return to almost normal. The WHO reminded that fighting COVID-19 does not mean the choice between lives and livelihoods and “the quickest way to open up economies is to defeat the virus.”

Because half of all COVID cases are spread by people without symptoms, experts continue to caution that one negative COVID test provides no guarantee that you’re COVID-free and not contagious. Those who choose to travel need to ensure they are not further contributing to the spread of the disease, difficult to do given limitations in the accuracy of testing and how easily the virus is transmitted. Until the pandemic is over (and it’s far from over), keep asking: Yes, you CAN travel, but SHOULD you travel? For those who must travel during the pandemic, we’ve created a free guidebook: Fodor’s Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel.

Until the pandemic is over (and it’s far from over), keep asking: Yes, you CAN travel, but SHOULD you travel?

 

Confusion remains about who can travel where, which destinations are considered “safe” and by whom, and the ever-changing requirements of each jurisdiction. Many question whether it’s ethical to travel at all, particularly for tourism. Many countries continue to recommend their citizens only travel if it’s truly essential, internationally as well as outside of their state or province. We’ve outlined the rules for 52 of the countries allowing Americans to enter their borders. Due to the U.S.’s high case numbers and several abrupt changes in advice from the CDC, Americans continue to face more travel restrictions than residents of most other countries.

A New Pathogen: COVID-19

In early January 2020, China and the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the identification of a new virus linked to cases of pneumonia first identified in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019. The new illness had the temporary name 2019-nCoV, and on February 11, 2020, the WHO officially named the disease COVID-19 (short for coronavirus disease, with the “19” designating 2019, the year it was first identified). The name of the virus itself is SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes coronaviruses as a type of virus that causes a fever and symptoms of the upper respiratory system, such as a sore throat, coughing, or runny nose, and sometimes more severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, bronchitis, pneumonia, and sometimes death. Other coronaviruses include the common cold, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Disease). Coronaviruses were first identified in the 1960s and have “corona” in their name because, at the molecular level, they have a crown-like shape.

Scientists speculate that SARS-CoV-2 jumped from an animal to a human, and then mutated to become a new virus. The WHO is studying the origins of the virus and experts will visit Wuhan in early 2021. It’s in the nature of a virus to mutate, and scientists are aware of many SARS-CoV-2 mutations, most of little concern. However, two more contagious strains were identified (B,1.1.7 in the U.K. and 501Y.V2 in South Africa) and, by the end of 2020, spread to multiple countries, although so far in small numbers. 

Scientists pay close attention to new viruses because they don’t know how they’ll behave and how dangerous they might be. A virus that’s contagious only when the infected person is clearly sick isn’t as big of a concern because sick people naturally stay home and that minimizes sharing it with others. But viruses that spread easily—especially before an infected person even realizes they’re sick—are more dangerous and very difficult to get under control. Similarly, viruses that are transmitted by direct contact (by touching mucus membranes or bodily fluids) are easier to control than airborne viruses. Measles and chickenpox, for example, float through the air on dust particles and are very contagious.

More than half of COVID-19 infections are spread by asymptomatic people—24 percent by people who don’t develop any symptoms and aren’t aware they’re sick and 35 percent before the person begins to feel any symptoms.

We still have a lot to learn about SARS-CoV-2, but we know it spreads very easily. Many people don’t realize they’re infected. According to the CDC, more than half of COVID-19 infections are spread by asymptomatic people—24 percent by people who don’t develop any symptoms and aren’t aware they’re sick and 35 percent before the person begins to feel any symptoms.

Experts first thought the coronavirus spread mainly by droplets released from our noses and mouths when we talk, sneeze, or cough—either by breathing them in when close to someone or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching our mucous membranes (eyes, noses, and mouths). For this reason, the early advice was to wash our hands often and to stay six feet from other people (droplets fall to surfaces quickly and tend not to spread beyond six feet). However, as more studies were done, experts realized SARS-CoV-2 is also spreading via aerosols—tiny droplets that can travel many yards and stay suspended in the air which we then breathe in. This is why wearing masks has become essential and why we should stay as physically distant as possible from people we don’t live with.

Changes in experts’ understanding of the novel coronavirus resulted in many people resisting the evolving advice about how to protect themselves. Some people refused to adapt from their initial understanding of the virus, no matter how incorrect that understanding was. Misinformation spread rapidly.

COVID-19 became politicized in many countries and trust in scientists, already eroded, further diminished. Politicians used the pandemic to score political points. People accused the WHO of collaborating with China. The politicization of the pandemic was particularly problematic in the U.S., compounded by the November 2020 presidential election. President Trump downplayed the seriousness of COVID and health officials were reluctant to correct him.

There were fears that the White House was overriding the advice of organizations like the CDC. For example, the CDC reversed their advice on issues like recommending returning travelers self-quarantine, retracted published information about the virus being aerosolized, and backtracked on whether asymptomatic people exposed to known COVID cases should get tested. The New York Times broke the news that the latter changes were made despite the objections of CDC scientists and several state governors announced they planned to ignore the CDC’s unscientific advice. In October 2020, the White House blocked the Food and Drug Administration from releasing vaccine guidelines and President Trump reportedly prevented President-elect Biden from receiving COVID briefings.

As of December 4, 2020, COVID is the leading cause of death in the U.S., above ischemic heart disease and lung cancer.

Many people don’t take COVID-19 seriously because the symptoms are often mild and because the majority of people recover. However, about 10% of COVID patients have long-lasting effects including damage to the lungs, heart, and brain. Some people have been infected twice. COVID-19 has a higher hospitalization and death rate than the flu. As of December 4, 2020, COVID is the leading cause of death in the U.S., above ischemic heart disease and lung cancer.

Other recent respiratory viruses have higher mortality rates but were much easier to control. SARS’ mortality rate is 9.6% and MERS’ is 34% (MERS is still active, with several cases and deaths in 2020). 2013’s H7N9 “Bird Flu” had a 39.3% mortality rate and 1997’s H5N1 “Bird Flu” was 57%. The 2009 H1N1 “Swine Flu” was designated as a pandemic and hit 214 countries. In a one year period, the CDC says the U.S. had about 60 million H1N1 cases and 12,469 deaths. In 2020, the U.S. had 20 million COVID cases and 350,000 deaths. Globally, H1N1 killed between 151,700 and 575,500 people. In 2020, more than 1.8 million people around the world died from COVID-19. Visualizing the History of Pandemics vividly illustrates that HIV/AIDS and the Spanish flu are, so far, the most deadly infectious diseases the world has faced.

COVID-19’s Evolving Spread

While the first major COVID-19 outbreak was in Wuhan, scientists still don’t know when, where, or how the virus originated.

Studies show COVID-19 was circulating in several countries as early as November 2019. While the first official case in Europe was diagnosed on January 24, 2020 (in France), a May 2020 study showed that a Parisian man likely had COVID-19 in late December 2019. A June wastewater study in Italy showed that the virus was in both Milan and Turin on December 18, 2019. COVID-19 may have been in Italy in November 2019: a swab taken from a Milan child with respiratory symptoms was tested retroactively and confirmed to have SARS-CoV-2 (the child had not traveled and his symptoms began November 21, 2019). Initial conclusions of a study of blood donations show COVID-19 may have been present in the U.S. in December 2019, despite the first official U.S. diagnosis on January 15, 2020.

On January 5, 2020, the WHO notified world leaders of the outbreak of what appeared to be a new virus. On January 10, the WHO issued guidance on how to detect, test, and manage cases. Initially, most people assumed the virus would stay in China and in a few isolated hot spots, such as the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the first outbreak outside of China. It was thought that efforts to restrict travel from these hotspots would be enough to contain cases. But on January 30, the WHO identified COVID-19 as a global health emergency.

To illustrate how exponentially COVID-19 spreads, Dr. Faheem Younus, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Maryland, explained that it took 66 days for the world’s case count to go from 100,000 to 200,000; 12 days to go to 300,000; four days to go to 400,000; two days to go to 500,000; and under two days to go to 600,000.

In mid-February 2020, reports of outbreaks outside of Asia began. Cases then began climbing rapidly worldwide. On March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. By mid-March COVID was in 125 countries and governments were closing their borders and determining how to repatriate their citizens abroad. At the beginning of March, the U.S. had about 100 confirmed cases but by March 23, the U.S. case count rose to 43,000—only China and Italy had more infections. Three days later, on March 26, the U.S. became the most affected country in the world with 81,000 cases and remains the country with the most cases. By the end of March, the disease epicenter shifted from Europe to the U.S. It then moved to Latin America during the southern winter, but by October the epicenter shifted back to Europe.

To illustrate how exponentially COVID-19 spreads, Dr. Faheem Younus, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Maryland, explained that it took 66 days for the world’s case count to go from 100,000 to 200,000; 12 days to go to 300,000; four days to go to 400,000; two days to go to 500,000; and under two days to go to 600,000. It then took one day to go to 700,000 cases. In April the number of cases rose from one million to three. The world reached 50 million cases on November 8, 83 million before the end of 2020. The one millionth COVID death was recorded on September 28, 2020. At the end of 2020, at least 1.8 million died from COVID-19.

Actual cases and COVID-related deaths are likely far higher. Studies testing for COVID antibodies show that countries have many more cases than indicated by positive tests. For example, a spring 2020 German study said actual cases were 10 times higher than confirmed cases. In November 2020, the CDC said only one in every eight COVID cases is caught, estimating that the actual COVID infection rate in the U.S. is eight times higher than what is reported. Countries also differ in how they report both COVID cases and deaths, and some changed their reporting methods during the pandemic, suddenly causing massive jumps in their statistics.

Cases were ebbing in many countries by summer 2020 but quickly started to resurge once restrictions were relaxed. A handful of countries—including New Zealand and Taiwan—were able to conquer the virus. Their citizens were able to return to almost-normal lives and their economies are in recovery. Cases began climbing again in Europe in mid-July. By early August, French authorities warned that the country “could lose control of COVID-19 at any time.” By September, cases surged in dozens of countries, including the U.S., followed by record highs of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Lockdowns in varying degrees were reintroduced.

In early December, rising cases started to slow in western Europe and restrictions began lifting in anticipation of the festive holiday period. However, shortly before Christmas, many European countries quickly reintroduced measures over fears that family gatherings and travel would spark new cases that hospitals would not have the capacity to treat.

The WHO reported that self-isolation and quarantine failures are a key cause of the northern hemisphere’s rising COVID rates—both individuals who refused to follow the rules and jurisdictions that failed to enforce measures consistently. The WHO’s emergency director said virus transmission could be curtailed if “every contact of a confirmed case is in quarantine for the appropriate period.”

Most countries experienced several waves of infection—Hong Kong was officially in its fourth COVID wave in December 2020. On December 21, 2020, cases of COVID were confirmed in Antarctica. New and more contagious variants of the virus—concentrated in the U.K. and South Africa—caused travel bans in December 2020. Despite vaccinations which began in December 2020, many experts believe the worst is yet to come.

The Latest Statistics

According to Worldometers, as of January 7, 2021, there are 87,975,720 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 1,897,986 people have died. More than 63,339,432 people have recovered, but many people continue to have symptoms months after their first diagnosis. A few people have been infected more than once.

As of January 5, 2021 the top 10 nations with high incidences are the U.S. (21,879,798 cases, 370,448 deaths), India (10,405,097 cases, 150,470 deaths), Brazil (7,886,067 cases, 199,315 deaths), Russia (3,332,142 cases, 60,457 deaths), the U.K. (2,889,419 cases, 78,508 deaths) France (2,705,618 cases, 66,565 deaths), Turkey (2,296,102 cases, 22,264 deaths), Italy (2,220,361 cases, 77,291 deaths), Spain (1,982,544 cases, 51,430 deaths), and Germany (1,854,711 cases, 38,672 deaths). China, the first country to identify the disease, has reported 87,278 cases and has remained at 4,634 deaths for months. More than 80 countries now have more cases than China. Note that China doesn’t include asymptomatic cases in their official case count, as most countries do.

COVID-19 is in 218 countries and territories, using the United Nations’ geoscheme definition, with Samoa and Vanuatu the latest countries to record their first cases. On November 2, The Guardian identified the nations and territories still believed to be COVID-free: American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Norfolk Island, Palau, Pitcairn Island, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

World Leaders’ Reactions

Early in the pandemic, there was a lack of understanding of which measures were best able to combat the virus. Many governments were reluctant to impose restrictions. In most countries, the initial response was to cancel major events and ban live audiences from sports matches. On March 24, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed until July 23 to August 8, 2021. Restrictions were put in place first in Asia, then in Europe, and then almost everywhere. Most countries experienced a lockdown of some kind in March and April 2020.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, repeatedly pressed countries to enhance protection measures beyond canceling public gatherings. He stressed the importance of “isolating, testing, and treating every suspected case” and tracing contacts of anyone diagnosed. Without that, he said transmission chains will continue and then surge again once restrictions are lifted. On March 25, Tedros said the world “squandered the first window of opportunity” to control COVID-19 and urged leaders to “do everything to suppress and control this virus” and not squander the second opportunity. He summarized the first 100 days of the COVID-19 crisis on April 8, 2020.

The new mantra became flattening the curve to prevent healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed. Most governments implemented COVID protection measures, ranging from advising their citizens to be cautious to closing nonessential businesses to full lockdowns where people were not allowed to leave their homes, even, in some cases, for exercise. Public life around the world shut down. This was relatively easy for people with their own homes and for those who could do their work remotely but was often impossible for homeless people, people with low incomes, and those working in essential services. The BBC compared January to April restrictions in many countries.

By April, half the world’s population faced movement restrictions. At least 90% of the population of the U.S. was under some kind of lockdown in mid-April, with restrictions varying by state. Some countries, like South Korea, monitored quarantine with electronic wristbands. In Panama, residents were only allowed to leave their houses for two hours at a time, and men and women were not allowed out on the same day. For a short time, Jordan even closed grocery stores. Despite the restrictions, hospitals around the world became overwhelmed and the death toll climbed. Some cities, including in the U.S., didn’t have enough space to store the bodies of the dead.

Over concerns about the pandemic’s economic consequences, governments felt pressured to lift restrictions. There were protests from people who valued their individual freedoms more than the health of their communities. Some people refused to trust scientists and even believed the pandemic was a plot or a hoax.

In many places, restrictions were inadequate and people looked for ways to circumvent them. The U.S. implemented 15 Days to Slow the Spread on March 16, 2020 (later changed to 30 Days to Slow the Spread), which included advice to limit interactions with other people, including discretionary travel, shopping, and sitting in restaurants and bars. Many ignored the advice. In mid-March, officials in many countries expressed shock at the number of people who were flouting health advice. Many young people said they didn’t care if they contracted the virus, seemingly unaware they were not immune from serious symptoms or death and that they could easily transmit the virus to others at greater risk. The term “covidiot” was coined as photos of crowded parties and beaches circulated.

Over concerns about the pandemic’s economic consequences, governments felt pressured to lift restrictions. There were protests from people who valued their individual freedoms more than the health of their communities. Some people refused to trust scientists and even believed the pandemic was a plot or a hoax. However, others demanded more protection measures saying that governments should not put the economy ahead of lives and public health.

Most governments lifted COVID protection measures too early. Few used the time to develop the comprehensive testing, tracing, and quarantine systems the WHO recommended. Few followed the WHO’s six factors for deciding when to lift lockdown conditions. Case numbers continued to rise with subsequent waves of infection and reintroduction of restrictions. A few countries followed the WHO’s advice, including refocusing “the whole of government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19” and were successful at stopping the virus and reopening their economies.

Countries that acted quickly in response to new cases were also successful. Israel, for example, was the first country to impose a second nationwide lockdown in September 2020. Vietnam effectively extinguished a summer outbreak originating in Da Nang and then suspended most inbound commercial flights in early December 2020 to curtail the first domestic transmission of COVID in 89 days (said to be caused by someone who violated quarantine).

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that COVID is causing the global balance of power to shift even further in Asia’s favor, especially to countries that have controlled the virus and where mask-wearing is accepted and there are minimal, if any, protests against measures to protect public health.

Throughout the pandemic, the United Nations, the WHO, and aid agencies raised concerns about the public health emergency becoming a human rights crisis. Asian people around the world report increased harassment and discrimination, exacerbated by some leaders insisting on calling COVID-19 the “China virus” and driving fear. Hate speech and anti-foreigner xenophobia rose. Awareness grew that the virus disproportionately affects marginalized people including people of color, people with lower-incomes, refugees, and migrants.

The UN called for governments to enact measures to protect abused women and children who must self-isolate at home with their abusers. Famine and hunger rose. As of August 2020, more than a billion students in 160 countries had missed school due to the pandemic, with an estimated 23 million students at risk of not having access to school or of dropping out, leading to a possible “generational catastrophe.” With funds for HIV/AIDS, measles, tuberculosis, and malaria reallocated to COVID, controlling other diseases became more challenging. The UN and WHO were unsuccessful in their calls for a ceasefire of all armed conflicts around the world in order to focus on the common threat of COVID-19.

The head of the International Monetary Fund called for urgent action to prevent the gap between rich and poor countries from widening further due to COVID, saying that a billion people in 70 countries face “unprecedented human and economic devastation” and 90 million people are at risk of extreme poverty. There’s concern that decades of effort will be lost, that previous goals of ending world poverty, hunger, and gender inequality by 2030 can no longer be met, and the result will be increased social and economic upheaval around the world. The United Nations said 2021 is a “make or break year” for humanitarian aid, preventing famines that could “sweep the globe,” and minimizing children dying from lack of routine vaccinations.

Some authoritarian governments used the pandemic to exert their influence and gain more power. For example, the government of Turkmenistan banned the word “coronavirus” and police arrested people who said it or wore face masks. The Hungarian parliament passed a bill giving the government the ability to rule by decree without any time limits and allowing significant jail sentences for people deemed to be spreading rumors. In the U.S., April featured arguments about the authority of state governors versus the U.S. president to reopen the economy, and some perceived President Trump as calling for mutiny.

Instability helped the virus spread. More people became sick and died. Personal protective equipment (PPE)—essential for healthcare and other frontline workers—was in short supply for the first few months of 2020 and, in some jurisdictions, throughout 2020. Prices skyrocketed, there were bidding wars to secure supplies, and accusations of “PPE piracy,” particularly against the U.S. Everyone was desperate for N95 masks, ventilators, oxygen tanks, and other supplies. Experts made the case that individualism and nationalism would increase virus transmission and therefore put everyone at greater risk, but it was largely ignored.

As the disease spread, many countries realized they could better tackle the pandemic (and the economic consequences of it) by cooperating rather than competing against each other. Via the G7, G20, United Nations, and organizations such as the Alliance for Multilateralism, countries pledged to cooperate and to return to rules-based international order. Often, the U.S. didn’t participate or sign on to international agreements, for example over concerns about strengthening the role of the WHO or because other countries refused to give in to U.S. demands that COVID-19 be called the “Wuhan virus.”

Commitments ranged from funding research for vaccines and therapeutics and equitably distributing them around the world to mitigating disruptions in the economy, trade, and travel. Despite this, countries felt pressure to take care of their own first. Solidarity, even amongst European Union members, was seriously threatened.

Travel Bans and Restrictions

Travel restrictions began in Wuhan in January and grew to almost every other country by March. Many still exist in early 2021. Some countries limited who could enter their borders by passport or COVID test status, some implemented outright travel bans, and others closed their borders to all nonessential travel.

The WHO advised that short-term restrictions, carefully weighed against risk, may be justified at the beginning of an outbreak to allow countries to implement preparedness measures. Similarly, restrictions were useful for destinations “with few international connections and limited response capacities.” The WHO cautioned that travel bans and “restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.” The key to making restrictions successful is for governments to use the time to implement robust systems to isolate, test, and trace every suspected COVID case.

 

Many public health experts reiterated that bans against travel and trade are ineffective…Bans encourage people to lie about their symptoms, where they have been, and whether they’ve been exposed to illness.

Many public health experts reiterated that bans against travel and trade are ineffective, not scientifically or economically warranted, and can cause more harm than good. Steve Hoffman, a professor of global health at York University, described how a travel ban “actually undermines the public-health response because it makes it harder to track cases in an outbreak.” Bans encourage people to lie about their symptoms, where they have been, and whether they’ve been exposed to illness. Many people are so desperate to get to their destination that they board flights knowing they have symptoms.

In spring 2020, most governments put travel bans and restrictions in place—in attempts to protect their citizens, to respond to citizens’ demands to “do something,” and for political reasons. The UN World Tourism Organization reported May 31, 2020, that 100% of the world’s destinations had travel restrictions in place, 75% had borders closed completely to international tourists, and three percent of destinations had started easing restrictions in some way. Some experts say efforts would have been better placed to increase understanding of COVID-19 and encourage individuals to take responsibility for decisions to protect themselves and others.

The U.S. began implementing new border rules on February 2, 2020. The first ban prohibited foreign nationals who had visited China in the previous 14 days from entering the U.S. However, 40,000 people flew to the U.S. on direct flights from China after the ban was in place (which perhaps gave a false sense of security and delayed other actions that may have saved more lives). A ban on travelers from Iran was added on February 29. On March 11, a Europe travel ban was announced (the U.K. and Ireland were initially exempt, but added March 14 when clarifications were issued). A travel ban against Brazil began May 27. The New York Times reported in August 2020 that the White House considered banning U.S. citizens from entering the county if an official “reasonably believes that the individual either may have been exposed to or is infected” with COVID, though the move would likely be unconstitutional.

The U.S. declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020. On March 19, the State Department changed its travel advisory from Level 3: Reconsider All Travel to the highest tier—Level 4: Do Not Travel—and recommended Americans “arrange for immediate return to the United States unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” The CDC first issued level 3 “warnings” for a frequently-changing list of countries, but then advised avoiding all nonessential travel. Initially, the U.S. advised travelers from specific destinations to self-isolate for 14 days but unlike many other western democracies, did not implement a mandatory quarantine, and later rescinded the recommendation. Domestic U.S. travel advisories began in March 2020.

Nonessential travel across the U.S.-Mexico land border was barred as of March 21, 2020, and The Guardian reported that the U.S.’s construction of the southern border wall would be increased. The U.S.-Canada border also closed to all but essential travel on March 21 and Canada-U.S. relations hit a new low. The Nation reported a leaked Customs and Border Protection memo requesting $145 million in funding to monitor the activities of Canadians. On  March 26 the Canadian prime minister confirmed rumors that the White House discussed putting troops near the U.S.-Canada border (at the time, Canada had 4,000 cases while the U.S. had 81,000).

Travel rules began lifting in the U.S. in May 2020, and on August 6 the State Department lifted the Global Level 4—Do Not Travel Health Advisory which had been in place since March 19. The State Department returned to the pre-pandemic practice of designating individual countries with a specific travel advisory on a scale of one to four. Many countries remain at Level 4, but most of the world is classified at Level Three—Reconsider Travel. A few exceptions are at Level Two—Exercise Increased Caution and Level One—Exercise Normal Precautions.

Travel restrictions loosened—to varying degrees—worldwide as 2020 progressed. But in November and December 2020, travel bans re-emerged, often with little notice. For example, on November 5, China reimposed several travel bans—some Chinese embassies posted notices on their websites that non-Chinese nationals from those countries, including people with Chinese permanent residency permits, were “temporarily suspended” from entering China. Affected countries included Bangladesh, Belgium, Ethiopia, France, India, Italy, the Philippines, Russia, and the U.K. New testing requirements were put in place for other countries—to enter China travelers coming from Australia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the U.S. were required to provide both a negative PCR test no older than 48 hours and a positive antibody test.

As 2020 drew to a close, some countries—including Iran, Italy, Spain, and the U.K.—reinstated domestic travel bans, and others discouraged travel with rules that hotels could not host tourists. In December, many countries added new bans in response to the more infectious U.K. and South Africa strains of the virus, though testing in December 2020 and early January 2021 revealed that at least 30 countries already had the new variants in their population. Some countries, including Peru, reintroduced mandatory quarantine for anyone arriving in the country.

INSIDER TIPFor planning travel, we outline considerations to keep in mind: Will It Be Safe to Travel Again When This Is All Over? Will We Even Know?

Restarting Travel

The UN World Tourism Organization announced on June 4, 2020, that “the time has come to restart tourism.” Most countries reopened in 2020, but, as of January 2021, many are still only open to their own citizens and for essential travel.

The UN held a policy briefing on the tourism sector in August 2020. The Secretary General reported that more than 120 million tourism jobs were at risk (plus 144 million related jobs in associated sectors like food service) and more than $320 billion in exports were lost (three times the loss in 2009, the last global financial crisis). COVID-19 is affecting travel and tourism in all nations, although islands, African countries, and developing countries and the worst affected.  The importance of tourism for small businesses and for the conservation of cultural and natural heritage was reiterated. The UN called for tourism to be rebuilt equitably and with the climate in mind, and in ways that are safe for travelers, workers, and host communities.

When reopening borders, many countries initially chose to issue “green lists” of countries they would allow entry and red or orange lists of countries that were barred from entry or allowed under strict conditions. Each jurisdiction used a different measure of safety and deciphering COVID travel restrictions became a challenge. Al Jazeera listed border restrictions as of June 2020.

The E.U. released a green list on June 30, 2020, allowing travelers from, at the time, 14 countries to enter the European Union. It was last updated on December 16 (lifting restrictions on travelers from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand, as well as from China, Hong Kong, and Macao, subject to confirmation of reciprocity). In late December, much of Europe closed its borders to the U.K. due to its new virus variant, and as of January 1, 2021’s official Brexit departure, the U.K. no longer benefits from E.U. exemptions.

Member states are not required to abide by the E.U. guidelines, and individual European countries continue to set their own rules. To ease travel, on October 13, 2020, the E.U. approved A Common Approach on COVID-19 Travel Measures with consistent color-coded measures and restrictions according to each E.U. country’s epidemiological situation. Travel for E.U. citizens within the block had few restrictions during summer 2020, but travelers were a source of many of Europe’s new cases which then surged to record highs in the autumn and some ask “Did Europe Make a Mistake Reopening Its Borders?

The U.K. also introduced green lists. First, the U.K. made quarantine mandatory for travelers as of June 8, 2020, and then added green list exemptions. On July 3, 2020, England issued a “travel corridor” list of destinations allowed into the country without mandatory quarantine (it’s updated almost weekly). As of December 14, 2020, the U.K. reduced the normal length of mandatory quarantine from 14 days to 10. On December 15, England reduced its quarantine period to five days for passengers who test negative for COVID on day five after arrival. See our Europe update for details on how England’s list has changed over time and what applies to Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

As the pandemic progressed and COVID testing became more readily available, many countries dropped their green, orange, and red lists and resumed allowing travelers from any destination to cross their borders.

Almost all countries screen arrivals for symptoms, many require proof of a negative COVID test prior to arrival, some require testing on arrival and/or several days after. Some countries require mandatory self-isolation/quarantine (occasionally within a resort’s property) and some only require quarantine if a passenger tests positive. Some destinations, like Dubai, require travelers to complete a health declaration card and register on an app for contact tracing. Nigeria bans people from travel for six months if they fail to get their required COVID test. In Panama, travelers need to sign an affidavit that they will comply with all COVID measures.

We outline the entry rules for 52 countries Americans can travel to. Interactive maps to reduce confusion over ever-changing entry rules are at Covid.Controls.co and the International Air Transport Association’s travel requirements map.

Due to its reliance on tourism, the Caribbean was one of the first to begin reopening—the region had a once-in-a-century tourism shock with a predicted best-case scenario of losing 50% of its 2020 tourism revenue. The first Caribbean countries to reopen included Saint Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda on June 4, 2020. As the summer progressed, more islands reopened, first to travelers from countries deemed low risk and then to all countries. One of the last Caribbean nations to reopen was St. Kitts & Nevis, on October 31, 2020.

However, travelers brought COVID to the region, resulting in some countries reclosing their borders after local cases began rising beyond hospital capacity. There were several reports of travelers behaving badly, including American tourists that threatened to sue Antigua & Barbuda because they (wrongly) believed a COVID test on arrival was a violation of their rights. Other travelers refused to obey quarantine rules even after testing positive for COVID. In response, most Caribbean nations strengthened their entry rules.

Some countries instituted new visas, fees, and mandatory health insurance. For example, via the Jamaica Cares program, visitors pay a $40 fee which provides health insurance and funds an “all-hazards program” for medical emergencies including COVID-19. When Costa Rica reopened to travelers from all destinations, it made buying travel medical insurance mandatory.

Many countries offered incentives to attract tourists. For example, Spain’s Canary Islands covered COVID medical expenses and several countries provided free health insurance. Cyprus committed to covering the costs of accommodations, food, and medications for tourists affected by COVID. Uzbekistan promised $3,000—the equivalent of a hospital stay—to any tourist that contracted the virus. The Maldives, which began reopening its 1,192 tropical islands in July 2020, introduced the Maldives Border Miles loyalty program and an insurance program. The loyalty program, the world’s first, allows travelers to earn points for the number of visits and length of stay in the Maldives, with bonuses for special occasion visits. Oman exempted 103 countries from needing a visa for visits of ten days or less.

Several hotel groups also implemented insurance initiatives. For example, Palladium Hotel Group offered free COVID health insurance for guests at its hotels in the Americas and Spain to cover any incidents directly related to COVID-19 during guests’ stays. Club Med encouraged “travel with peace of mind” with their new Safe Together and Emergency Assistance programs.

Travel bubbles became the new rage and many countries tried to negotiate agreements for quarantine-free travel between their jurisdictions. But with new outbreaks, few bubbles were finalized and even fewer lasted until the end of 2020. Singapore secured travel bubbles with Brunei and New Zealand, as well as business travel agreements with Indonesia, Malaysia, and South Korea, amongst others. But the Hong Kong-Singapore quarantine-free travel bubble was delayed the day before it was to start, November 22, due to a new outbreak in Hong Kong. It won’t start until January 2021 at the earliest.

In 2021, New Zealand and the Cook Islands plan a travel bubble to begin as early as January. New Zealand and Australia announced their trans-Tasman travel bubble will open during the first quarter of 2021, subject to no significant changes in infection rates in either country. Both Australia and New Zealand have a system of managed quarantine within a limited number of designated hotels, which would be eliminated for travel between the two neighbors.

Air Travel

Airlines began canceling flights and adjusting schedules in January 2020 in response to government bans and because of reduced customer demand. Many airlines discontinued international flights, reduced domestic flights, and some temporarily shut their operations. As the pandemic progressed, some countries grounded international flights completely. As people tried to return to their home countries, passengers reported showing up for flights at airports only to learn they’ve been canceled, with the pattern repeating with subsequent flights.

Air travel started taking off again in May and enhanced cleaning protocols helped improve public confidence. For example, most airlines now use a fogger of electrostatically-charged disinfectant that sticks to surfaces. The EPA approved a new cleaning agent that kills viruses for seven days, with American Airlines the first airline to test it.

Initially, several airlines blocked middle seats or reduced the number of passengers allowed to book. However, passengers posted social media photos of packed planes and complained that airlines misled them about their new policies—the fine print of some airlines explained that “blocked” seats could still be assigned to passengers, for example when flights were consolidated. Airlines introduced mandatory mask policies but were slow to enforce them.

COVID has significantly affected the airline industry, and there’s concern that air travel won’t recover until 2024.

With evidence that the air on planes is safer than most other indoor places, reports of pilots returning to the gate to kick off passengers who refused to wear masks (Delta placed people on their no-fly list too), more flexible change policies, and rumors that airfares might rise by 50% if blocking seats remained, travelers became more comfortable taking to the air again. To help encourage air travel, most U.S. airlines are eliminating change fees for international flights (depending on fare class purchased and travelers will need to pay the difference if rebooked flights have a higher cost). Emirates provided passengers with free COVID insurance to cover COVID-related expenses up to 150,000 euros if diagnosed with the virus during travel.

However, flying is still unpredictable. For example, many countries started suspending flights from the U.K. and South Africa in December 2020, as concern grew about the new more contagious variants of the virus. In Shanghai on November 22, 2020, hundreds of flights to and from Pudong airport were canceled and thousands of passengers and staff were subjected to last-minute COVID testing after China detected two cases in the airport. Videos on social media show crowds pushing through the linked arms of officials in hazmat suits.

COVID has significantly affected the airline industry, and there’s concern that air travel won’t recover until 2024. In a November 2020 briefing, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced that airline revenues are down 60% for 2020 and estimated losses are $118.5 billion, which threaten the industry’s continued survival, particularly for smaller airlines and airports.

As 2021 starts, there’s still much to be worked out. The airline industry wants COVID testing systems rather than closed borders and quarantines. Passengers want the consistency of rules and protocols, both within an individual country and internationally. 

 

 

Cruise Ship Travel

COVID-19 significantly disrupted the cruise industry. Cruise itineraries began changing in January 2020 to avoid China and then other hot spots. In February 2020, the first major COVID outbreak outside of China was aboard a cruise ship.

First, cruise lines enhanced their health checks and implemented new rules for whether passengers could board, sometimes based on travel history and sometimes just based on passport regardless of the person’s country of residence or where they were traveling from. Many ports refused to allow cruise ships to dock, regardless of the COVID status of those aboard. Cruise Critic tracks cruise lines’ COVID-19 updates and port closures.

There were reports of dozens of cruise ships stranded at sea and unable to dock to allow their passengers and crew, some of whom were sick, to return home.

In March 2020, almost all cruise lines began suspending their operations, and most ended up canceling the rest of the 2020 season altogether. The CDC put a No Sail Order in place on March 14, 2020.

There were reports of dozens of cruise ships stranded at sea and unable to dock to allow their passengers and crew, some of whom were sick, to return home. As an example, in March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis initially did not allow two Holland America ships to dock, first saying he did not want passengers “dumped” in Florida and then said only Floridians could disembark. Eventually, Carnival Corporation arranged charter flights and most passengers were home by early April.

Crews had a more difficult time than passengers. At the end of April, The Guardian reported that at least 100,000 crew were living in close quarters on cruise ships around the world, on ships that weren’t allowed to dock, in countries they weren’t allowed to fly out of, or because their home countries had closed their borders even to citizens. Many were ill, at least 17 died, and reports circulated that some crew were no longer being paid and had limited means to send and receive information. Some cruise lines, like MSC Cruises, allowed crew to use larger passenger cabins, provided free internet, and secured and paid for flights home. In early May, the Coast Guard said 80,000 crew members were unable to disembark from cruise ships in U.S. waters because the strict CDC requirements couldn’t be met.

In a few jurisdictions, cruises were allowed to restart in summer and fall 2020—usually restricted to residents of their countries of departure—with extensive new safety measures in place. However, most countries continue to advise their citizens to avoid both ocean and river cruises. On November 24, 2020, the CDC changed its advisory for cruises from Level 3 (which had been in place since March) to Level 4, the highest tier. The CDC also recommends all U.S. travelers who take a cruise to quarantine for at least seven days and get a COVID test three to five days after disembarking.

Cruise ships hope to restart in 2021. Norwegian was the first cruise line to announce how they’ll operate going forward. Measures include a public health officer onboard to oversee health practices, fogging with electrostatic disinfectant, passenger temperature checks prior to all public activities, including meals, and the elimination of self-serve buffets.

On November 1, 2020, the CDC replaced the No Sail Order with a Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships. Cruise lines will need to meet extensive new conditions—including successfully completing simulated voyages—and apply for a Conditional Sailing Certificate 60 days in advance of resuming their operations. This essentially extended the cruise hiatus until at least early 2021. Cruise Critic explains the CDC’s framework.

There was a COVID false alarm on a December 2020 four-day Royal Caribbean “cruise to nowhere” out of Singapore. The cruises are only open to Singapore residents (at the time Singapore had about a dozen new daily cases) and operate at 50 percent capacity to allow for distancing. Standard protocols include a COVID test prior to boarding and disembarking, as well as an onboard test if a passenger seeks medical attention for any reason. A passenger tested positive in one of these latter tests, but then tested negative three times on shore. The cruise ended one day early and the false-positive case was seen as an effective test of new COVID protocols.

Tests, Treatments, Vaccines, and Hope for the Future

Throughout 2020, reports of new tests and treatments came almost daily, often without first being peer-reviewed. What seemed like good news one week turned out to be problematic the next. People were desperate for “miracle cures” and anything that could help bring life back to normal.

China identified and shared the full genome sequence of the new coronavirus by January 12, 2020, and scientists used it to quickly develop diagnostic tests, treatment options, and then vaccine candidates.

The WHO repeatedly called for countries to work together so as not to waste time, money, and resources in short supply. In April 2020, the WHO and partners launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. It aims to coordinate work and funding from around the world and in all sectors so that diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines could be developed quickly and efficiently and then distributed equitably around the world. Political pressures to protect countries’ own citizens, exacerbated by PPE piracy and supply shortages, made global cooperation a challenge.

The ability to test for the virus was critical for reopening travel. Most countries require travelers to show that they’ve tested negative for the virus, usually via more-accurate molecular tests like the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test rather than less-accurate rapid antigen tests. However, there were misunderstandings about how and when the tests should be used. A negative COVID test does not guarantee that you’re virus-free and should not be interpreted as a green light to travel or ignore COVID precautions. Tests need to be used properly and in conjunction with other measures to minimize virus transmission.

Vaccines brought hope. Chinese and Russian vaccines were the first out of the gate, and in December 2020, three western vaccines were approved by several countries as safe and effective. Some are a new type called messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine. Unlike all other forms of vaccine, mRNA vaccines don’t contain the actual (weakened) virus but only contain the virus’s genetic code. It sends a “message” to cells to create antigens that prepare the body to fight COVID-19. Because it uses genetic code, mRNA vaccines can be manufactured more quickly and less expensively than regular vaccines and, in theory, can be modified if COVID-19 mutates. Clinical trials show they have an effectiveness rate above 90%. However, mRNA vaccines need to be stored at very cold temperatures, which makes distribution in remote areas and developing countries a challenge.

The COVAX pillar of the WHO’s ACT Accelerator is a critical aspect of vaccine development and distribution. In 2020, 190 countries gradually signed on, though the U.S. and Russia have yet to do so. Richer countries are meant to help subsidize immunization in poorer countries, and the goal is for the most vulnerable 20% of people in all member countries to be vaccinated first.

Distributing vaccines first to high-risk people around the world helps protect health care systems and strengthens economies more quickly—critical given the extent individual countries and the global economy rely on international trade and travel. The WHO’s chief scientist said that with two billion doses distributed—which would allow vaccinating one billion of the world’s 7.8 billion people—the acute phase of the pandemic would be over. At the start of 2021, much progress has been made but billions in funding are still needed to support the initiatives.

What Will the Future of Travel Look Like?

As with 9/11, COVID-19 may change travel forever. Despite the beginnings of vaccinations, the new normal for all travel—whether around the world or around the block—means masks, physical distancing, enhanced cleanliness, and vigilance in monitoring ourselves for the mildest of symptoms. Even in spring 2020, experts speculated that COVID-19 might become a new disease we always have to watch out for—The Atlantic described how “‘cold and flu season’ could become ‘cold and flu and COVID-19 season.’”

While great news, vaccines won’t yet allow travel to restart normally. While the vaccines are very effective at preventing illness, experts still don’t know if vaccines will prevent the spread of COVID nor how long immunity from illness might last (clinical trials are underway to determine this).

As well, we need herd immunity—experts say between 70 and 90% of the population vaccinated—in every country. Not everyone wants a vaccine and access will be delayed for many who do want it, particularly those who live in poorer countries. Studies show that political instability, misinformation, and religious extremism are linked with lack of trust in vaccines.

Humanitarian organizations warned that only 10 percent of the populations of 67 developing countries are on track to be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Ensuring equitable vaccine distribution to poorer countries is a challenge the COVAX initiative is trying to address. In late 2020, reports that rich nations secured the vast majority of vaccine candidates increased fears that poorer countries might not have access to enough vaccine until 2024. Humanitarian organizations warned that only 10 percent of the populations of 67 developing countries are on track to be vaccinated by the end of 2021. Lack of immunization could mean limits to travelers, the ruin of tourism economies, the perpetuation of poverty, and increases in long-term illnesses and lives lost.

Will You Need a Vaccine to Fly in 2021? The WHO said it does not foresee countries making vaccination mandatory, although does anticipate that some jobs, such as those in the healthcare field, will require it. Private companies may require their customers to be vaccinated—Qantas was the first airline to announce that, once vaccines are available, air passengers will be required to be vaccinated in order to fly internationally with the airline. Cyprus announced that, as of March 1, 2021, travelers who have proof of vaccination will be exempt from showing a negative PCR certificate upon arrival. Singapore announced on January 4, 2021 that “if there is clear evidence that transmission risks can be lowered significantly, we will certainly consider some relaxation to the [self-isolation rules] for vaccinated travelers.”

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) plans to create an app to facilitate proof of vaccination. However, CommonPass—created by the World Economic Forum and nonprofit The Commons Project Foundation—is already being successfully piloted internationally. This digital health pass allows airlines and border officials to verify travelers’ COVID status, for example by ensuring the test result is from a valid lab and the traveler is the same person who took the test. It will do the same for vaccination status. The Airport Council International (ACI) and several airlines are already members of the CommonTrust Network, and Aruba was the first country to sign on.

At a November 2020 tourism conference, the UN’s World Tourism Organization and the World Travel & Tourism Council made the case for countries to follow similar international COVID protocols for testing and, eventually, vaccination to facilitate ease of travel. They also called for travel corridor agreements between destinations with similar epidemiological situations. Much work is needed in 2021 so that travel can be predictable and consistent again.

The WHO also warned that the world is at risk of future pandemics if we choose not to learn from COVID-19. Emergency experts Mike Ryan said “I have seen the amnesia that seems to descend upon the world after a traumatic event,” and mentioned the SARS, H5N1, and H1N1 crises. Ryan also called out developed nations in the northern hemisphere who run their health care systems “like low-cost airlines” without necessary surge capacity, and that this decision costs lives and drags back economies.

 

Protecting Yourself and Preventing Virus Spread

Throughout 2020, studies revealed new information about the COVID-19 virus and health advice evolved. Critically, scientists realized that COVID-19 transmits mainly by aerosols that come out of our mouths and noses when we cough, sneeze, laugh, or talk and that it is easy to spread the virus because so many infected people have mild or no symptoms at all. The early advice of “wash your hands, don’t touch your face” changed to “keep your distance, wear a mask.” Fodor’s published a free Healthy Travel eBook outlining what you need to consider. 

  • Physical Distancing: Keeping six feet—minimum—away from others not in your household is the most effective way to prevent transmission of COVID-19. This means not only no hugs, kisses, handshakes, or elbow bumps, but standing apart in lines, avoiding crowds, and traveling only when essential. As the pandemic strengthened, many governments put in place measures to prevent people from coming in contact with each other including reducing capacity in buildings, prohibitions against meeting in groups (including in private homes), and lockdowns.
  • Outdoors is Better than Indoors: Although HEPA filters (such as in hospitals and on planes) and even opening windows make indoor places safer, the virus does not spread easily outdoors. Health experts recommend that any contact with people not in your immediate household is best done outdoors. Studies show how fast COVID-19 can spread indoors.
  • Wear a Mask: Whenever physical distancing is difficult, masks reduce—but do not eliminate—risk. Initially, rules were in place because of evidence that masks protect nearby people. In August, studies showed that masks also help protect the wearer from COVID-19. Face shields do not protect others and most jurisdictions do not allow face shields as a substitute for masks. Around the world, face masks became recommended and then mandatory first indoors, then outdoors in crowded places, and sometimes whenever outside of your own household. The CDC recommended April 3 that Americans wear masks in public and the WHO updated its mask advice on June 6. Masks are required on public transportation in almost all countries. Al Jazeera summarized various countries’ rules as of August 2020.
  • And Wear Your Mask Properly: Studies show that masks are not more effective than physical distancing measures, that masks give a false sense of security, and that many people don’t wear masks correctly. Masks must be snug-fitting (fogged glasses show your mask is letting air escape) and must be worn over the mouth and nose. Do not touch your mask, including to take it on and off, unless your hands are clean, and avoid fidgeting with it. It’s easy to contaminate yourself just by touching or taking off your mask. If you take it off to eat or drink, be sure to store it in a clean place like a resealable plastic bag—you can contaminate it by putting it on a table, around your arm, or around your neck. Be sure to wash reusable masks daily and don’t re-use masks that are meant to be single-use. 
  • Wash Your Hands: A 20-second scrub using warm running water and soap is best (the Mayo Clinic recommends singing “Happy Birthday” twice). Then, rinse with clean water and dry your hands. It’s important to dry them, though the jury is out about the best way (some studies say hot air blowers spread germs and that paper towels or clean fabric towels are best; other studies disagree). If you don’t have access to a sink (such as at a restaurant after touching the menu), use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If you use a wipe, check the label for the alcohol content and to see if it’s designed for skin or only for objects. Clean your hands often: certainly after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose; before you prepare food; before and after eating, and after using the restroom.
  • Keep the Things You Touch Clean: It’s good practice to regularly disinfect surfaces that get handled frequently, including sunglasses and keys. Your phone is filthy—clean it regularly, try to touch it only with clean hands, and be careful not to put it on contaminated surfaces like restaurant tables. Onboard planes and trains, use a cleaning wipe with at least 60% alcohol to clean your armrests, seatbelt, tray table, entertainment system controls, and other objects you’re likely to touch. Close the lid when you flush the toilet to prevent the coronavirus (and anything else present in toilet water) from contaminating the air and settling on surfaces in the bathroom.
  • Avoid Touching Your Face: Most viruses and bacteria enter the body through mucous membranes like the mouth, nose, and eyes. It’s easy to re-contaminate your hands after washing them, so keeping your hands away from your face is the best way to prevent germs of any type from getting in you.
  • Cough and Sneeze Into Your Elbow: Cover your cough with a tissue, the inside of your elbow, or, at least with a hand. Dispose of tissues immediately in a way that won’t infect the person who collects the garbage. Sanitize your hands immediately. Try to break the habit of crossing your arms and putting your hands right onto your sneeze spots.
  • Don’t Touch Animals You Don’t Know: Initially, this was a key part of the advice against COVID. Regardless of whether there’s a new virus circulating, staying away from animals when you travel (even that cute stray cat or dog) is a sensible precaution. They likely carry bugs that your body isn’t used to. The WHO also reminded people of its general advice to be extra careful in markets that have live animals or non-refrigerated meats and fish.

Self Isolate If There’s Any Chance You Could Be Sick

COVID-19 is spread easily because symptoms are often mild, arrive only after the infected person is already contagious, and many people don’t have any symptoms at all. If you feel sick, even with mild symptoms, stay home from work, school, errands, visiting others, and travel. Self-isolate from others in your household if you can. Follow the instructions of your health care provider to seek testing and treatment. Participate in contact tracing programs and apps to help reduce the spread of the virus. According to the WHO, lax quarantine/self-isolation is a key reason we haven’t controlled COVID-19.

If you have to drive someone who might be at risk (such as to a COVID testing facility), you’ll want to know about a December 2020 ScienceAdvances story that outlines the safest scenarios for traveling by car. It concludes that the more windows that are open the better. If you have to close a window, the study showed it’s best to close only the window next to the person who you’re trying to protect from infection—the window next to the potentially-infected person should be open. The safest seating arrangement is with just one passenger and for that person to sit in the backseat behind the passenger seat, as far away from the driver as possible.

Anyone who shows signs of illness could be prevented from entering a store, let alone boarding a plane, cruise, train, or bus. It’s not new to the COVID-19 situation, but keep in mind that airlines have the right to refuse passengers who appear to have a communicable disease. Travelers should expect increased vigilance and, potentially, restrictions even if they simply have a cold or allergy symptoms. Many airports, seaports, hotels, and tourist attractions have installed thermal imaging cameras to scan people as they walk by. Anyone showing an elevated temperature is pulled aside for additional questioning and maybe quarantine. You may be asked to attest that you have no symptoms and have not knowingly been in contact with anyone suspected of having COVID-19. 

This is an updated version of an article that was originally published on January 28, 2020.

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