Given the surge in vaccinations and declining death rates related to Covid-19 in Europe and other parts of the world, many people are planning to travel this summer and beyond. However, experts say the fast-circulating delta variant is a new problem for travelers, especially those who are not vaccinated.
The European Union said on June 18 that the United States would be added to its “safe list” of countries, a decision that should allow even unvaccinated US visitors (who can show a negative coronavirus test) to enter theirs 27 members enter states for unnecessary travel. However, these countries may impose their own restrictions and entry requirements.
The EU decision comes the same week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention elevated the delta variant of coronavirus to a “worrying variant” as it appears to spread faster and hit people harder than previous ones Forms of the virus.
If you’re wondering how this option will affect your travel plans, here’s everything you need to know before booking a flight.
Where does the delta variant spread?
So far, the variant identified for the first time in India has spread to more than 80 countries on June 16, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In a press conference on June 10th, Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said that the variant “is about to gain a foothold” in Europe.
According to Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the same is likely to be the case in other countries as well.
“If you’re out and about this summer, the chances that you will run into the Delta variant either in the US or in Europe or other parts of the world are pretty high,” she said.
The delta variant currently makes up between six and ten percent of cases in the United States, said Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University, adding that it is likely to be the dominant strain in the United States by August.
If you’re fully vaccinated, especially with a two-dose vaccine, “don’t worry about the Delta variant,” said Dr. Yeh.
Millions of Americans have received either Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccines; both are two-dose vaccines. Studies have shown that their effectiveness decreases only slightly when encountered with variants.
“People who have been vaccinated are still good against this variant,” said Dr. Jha, “but it’s one that you need a high level of immunity to fight off, so you really need to have both doses of your vaccine.”
Where can I find vaccination or infection rates for the places I want to visit?
The CDC has a global variant map that shows the countries where different variants have been identified, but does not list infection rates. It also lists the risk level by country.
Using information from government sources compiled by Oxford University’s Our World in Data project, the New York Times tracked global vaccinations and showed the percentage of people vaccinated in each country.
You can also check the websites of the national health authorities of the country you plan to visit online for more detailed information.
For example, in the UK, where the Delta variant is already the most common strain, the National Health Service publishes information on the distribution of the variant and vaccination rates in the country.
Inequitable access to the vaccine around the world has left poorer countries less protected and cases in parts of South America, Southeast Asia and Africa continue to rise. According to the WHO, 75 percent of vaccine doses went to just 10 nations.
Dr. Jha said it was important to look not only at vaccination rates for the country, but also at the vaccine that is being used there. Brazil, Turkey and other countries rely on one or both of the two main vaccines produced by Chinese companies to vaccinate their citizens.
“We have no data that the Chinese vaccines, for example, in general, and particularly with the Delta variant, are quite that good,” said Dr. Yeh.
I am fully vaccinated. What would it mean if I traveled to a place with low vaccination numbers?
A recent study by the CDC shows that the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines reduce the risk of infection by any form of the virus by 91 percent in people who are fully vaccinated. Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine is about 66 percent effective at preventing infections.
“Is it complete? No, “said Dr. Nuzzo. “But is it so damn good that I would relax personally? Yes.”
It is possible that people who have been vaccinated can still get infected, she said, but the incidence is pretty low and even if they do become infected, they are unlikely to get the disease. She added that those who have symptoms are more likely to spread the virus. “So if the vaccines did a good job keeping you symptom-free, the chances of you spreading it are pretty slim.”
If you want to further improve your chances of not getting infected, she recommends continuing to follow safety protocols like wearing a mask, social distancing, and avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
If you are vaccinated but your immune system is weakened due to illness or certain medications you are taking, you should be careful. You may not be fully protected, she said.
What if i am not vaccinated?
“If you are an unvaccinated person, I believe it makes your travel prospects a lot riskier,” said Dr. Nuzzo. “I really wouldn’t advise travelers at a time when these not only more communicable, but potentially more serious forms of the virus become more prevalent.”
Dr. Jha adds that “the simple answer” to protecting yourself as a traveler is to get vaccinated. This, he said, makes the prospect of facing the Delta virus much less risky.
“But when you are unvaccinated, or with people who have not been vaccinated, the risk is really significant,” he said.
He adds that travelers can take other safety measures to protect themselves, like wearing masks or social distancing, “but if you are on vacation this summer, it’s a less fun way to vacation.”
Dr. Nuzzo suggests thinking about vaccinations and safety measures as different levels of protection against the virus. “Every shift adds something,” she said. “Vaccination is the strongest protection against all forms of the virus.”
What about my kids
If your kids are over 12, get them vaccinated, said Dr. Yeh. But for children under the age of 12 who cannot yet be vaccinated in the US, he suggests continuing to follow the rules for wearing masks and social distancing. He also said vaccination itself can help protect your children.
“The greatest thing we can do to protect children under the age of 12 is to make sure everyone around them, all adults, are vaccinated,” he said. “There is very good evidence that infection rates in children decrease when adults are vaccinated.”
He said he plans to travel this summer with his children, one of whom is too young to be vaccinated.
Dr. Nuzzo, who has two young unvaccinated children, said she would too. “We are at a stage where we need to assess the risks and benefits of everything we do,” she said. “Everyone will do these calculations differently.”
How does the variant affect the travel restrictions?
When the first version of the coronavirus swept the globe last spring, much of the world huddled, restricted domestic movement, and many countries closed their borders for non-essential travel.
Many nations are now opening up, but concerns about the virus remain, particularly the Delta variant. Some countries make specific changes to their entry decisions based on the variant, while others impose emergency bans.
On June 18, Italy’s health minister said the nation would require mandatory five-day quarantine and testing for people from the UK, even if they are vaccinated, because of concerns about the Delta variant. In addition, the entry ban from India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka was extended.
On the same day, Portugal ordered a weekend lockdown in the Lisbon capital region to curb an increasing number of virus cases. About half of the reported cases come from the delta variant.
The rules for testing and the requirements for entering another country are evolving and can change quickly from one day to the next. Make sure you check the requirements for your destination country before booking your flight, but also make sure you are following the most up-to-date rules in the days leading up to your travel.
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