As the world begins to open its borders, international travelers need to remain diligent of limitations and risks.
As we enter a new phase in the COVID-19 pandemic, millions are finally able to return to activities they have not been able to do for more than a year—and travel seems to be on the top of many lists for summer plans. Of the increasing options, Europe seems to be a popular destination for many.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, fully vaccinated individuals can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, unless they’re specifically told otherwise based on federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial regulations.1 Furthermore, vaccines are increasingly easier to find with online resources.2 It is important to note, however, that health disparities have been revealed both during the pandemic and by the process of widespread vaccine administration.3
Nevertheless, having a return to previous routines and activities is bringing a welcome change compared to more than a year of quarantining and social distancing. The European Union (EU) recently reached a deal to approve a ‘digital COVID certificate’ to make travel easier this summer and revive their tourism industry.4 Many scientists, physicians, and various other healthcare agencies will be watching how the next few months play out as the doors open in June once international travel resumes between both continents. It is also important for travelers to know what to expect as they travel abroad.
The CDC has international travel guidance available on their website that is updated frequently.5 Travel advisories are listed on the United States (US) Department of State website for specific countries.6 The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control also offers weekly surveillance reports on COVID-19 for the general public.7 The 14-day case notification rate for the European Union on data based from 30 countries has been decreasing for weeks, giving many a sense of ease when planning European travel. Mortality has also been decreasing.
As for those who are vaccinated—during travel, it is important to realize that wearing a mask is still required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of transportation. Having a viral test 3 to 5 days after travel is also recommended, as is self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms. Expectations and recommendations are stricter for those who are unvaccinated. It is also important to note that different individual European countries may have different regulations, so this should also be investigated prior to any purchasing of plane tickets.
Although we are now in a period where we can talk about travel planning, it is still important to realize that the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It should also be emphasized that these travel opportunities and easing restrictions are for those who are vaccinated. Only about 37% of the US population has been vaccinated at this time.9 Community programs still need to be in place to get vaccines and education out to people in need both nationally and internationally.
As the EU opens up its borders to Americans who are vaccinated, an ‘emergency brake’ will also be in place to halt travel from countries where infection rates are rising.8 Variants are posing several concerns across the globe, so caution should still be practiced if one decides to travel abroad.
Eevar Benjamin Rossavik, DO, is a chief pediatrics resident who will soon join his program’s faculty to be a pediatrics attending. He has a specific interest in allergy, asthma, and immunology.
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