After 600 days of quarantine, the United States finally relaxed the Trump/Biden travel ban in November 2021. The ban prevented travelers from dozens of countries, including China, India and the EU, from entering the U.S., in the name of stopping COVID.
But are agencies of the U.S. government still actively discouraging travel by Americans?
Todd Handcock, Asia-Pacific president of travel service firm Collinson Group, recently told CNBC that the battered travel business will have to “roll with the punches” as government vaccine and test requirements “evolve” with the pandemic.
But what happens when those punches are thrown by the government itself? Sometimes it seems that the U.S. government has gotten into the “business prevention” business when it comes to travel during the coronavirus era.
Take cruise ships, for example. Or as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would say to potential passengers, don’t take them.
On December 30, 2021, the CDC issued a Traveler’s Health notice, “COVID-19 and Cruise Ship Travel.” The money quote: “Avoid cruise travel, regardless of vaccination status.” The notice also advised “The COVID-19 Travel Health Notice level has been updated from Level 3 to Level 4, the highest level. This reflects increases in cases onboard cruise ships since identification of the Omicron variant.”
If vacationers insist on disregarding these warnings, the CDC adds, “make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel and get a COVID-19 vaccine booster dose if you are eligible.” Yet stubborn passengers insist on enjoying cruising, including the first cruise to Hawaii from the mainland in almost two years.
With headlines like “All 92 U.S. cruises with passengers have reported COVID cases,” at first glance ‘avoid cruise travel’ alarmism could be justified. On January 10 the U.S. set a new record with 1.35 million people testing positive for COVID, part of a week with an average of 700,000 new infections a day.
But as Dr. Jeanne Noble, an associate professor of emergency medicine at UCSF, told SFGate, “The crisis from the Omicron peak is not generated by serious COVID illness in regions with highly vaxxed populations.” (Cruise lines generally require guests be vaccinated and also have rules on masking and testing.).
Dr. Noble added “I have not intubated a single COVID patient during this Omicron surge… The vast majority of COVID-plus patients I take care of need no medical care and are quickly discharged.” To Noble, the real problem in hospitals is acute staffing shortages “largely driven by disruptive COVID policies that encourage asymptomatic testing and subsequent quarantines.”
Similar issues afflict airlines, which have cancelled hundreds of flights due to staffing shortages due to employees calling in sick. United recently reported 3000 employees out. In response to such issues with the rapid spread of Omicron, the CDC reduced the recommended isolation period from 10 days to 5. Yet at the same time the CDC said, “don’t cruise.”
While the CDC hasn’t told people not to fly, it has published a sheaf of warnings about US domestic travel. Dr. Fauci joined the chorus pushing for vaccinations on domestic flights, which airlines have fought for a year as a business killer.
As for international travel, it’s still scary out there, according to the US State Department map of the world, Travel.State.Gov. Friendly neighbor Canada is the newest Level 4 Do Not Travel country, due to surging coronavirus.
Do Not Travel is red on the State Dept. map. Red covers more than half the world, especially with the addition of Canada. Then there is a beige Exercise Increased Caution, and a patterned Exercise Increased Caution – Contains Areas with Higher Security Risk. The rest of the map shows countries where you should Exercise Normal Precautions – Contains Areas with Higher Security Risk, Reconsider Travel and Reconsider Travel – Contains Areas with Higher Security Risk.
Only empty Greenland, population 58,000, is as white as snow on the map. Perhaps President Trump was looking at this map when he made his famous offer to acquire Greenland from Denmark.
Even tiny, old-world Liechtenstein now rates an official Level 4 “Do Not Travel” warning. COVID is the culprit. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Liechtenstein, indicating a very high level of COVID-19 in the country. Your risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing severe symptoms may be lower if you are fully vaccinated with an FDA authorized vaccine.”
COVID is the cause of many Level 4 warnings, but not all. Burma (Myanmar) hits the daily double “due to COVID-19 as well as areas of civil unrest and armed conflict.”
No matter how far you go, it seems, you cannot sail away from the world-wide pandemic. Even Antarctica gets a Level 4 warning “due to COVID-19.” Nonetheless, if you insist on going, the State Department warns travelers to “exercise increased caution in Antarctica due to environmental hazards posed by extreme and unpredictable weather.”
Well, duh, thank you, State Department. Next, you’ll be telling us it’s cold there, too.