[Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an earlier article that originally ran on January 28 with multiple updates since then.]
Warnings continue that—despite rising case and death numbers, some at record levels—too many people are not taking COVID precautions seriously enough, either because they’re tired of pandemic precautions or don’t trust scientists and health experts. Many countries are in worse situations now than in the spring, when scientists thought most COVID transmission was via fomites on objects rather than by being in close proximity to others. Health care systems in many cities and countries are at risk. Some destinations, particularly in Europe, are implementing new lockdowns and other reimplementing restrictions they’d previously lifted; other destinations are reopening with renewed caution.
Travel—and not obeying health rules—is still seen as a major contributor to the spread of COVID-19. For example, two French tourists to Iceland who tested positive broke rules to self-isolate and 100 cases of the virus in Iceland were traced to them, as reported by Iceland Review. Those who choose to travel need to ensure they are not further contributing to the spread of COVID-19, which is difficult to do given the 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?
Concern remains about whether we’re opening too much and too soon—most destinations that lift restrictions see corresponding new COVID outbreaks, many directly related to travel—and if destinations and businesses that depend on tourism can recover. Around the world, some people are impatient for life to get back to normal, while others fear it will mean all the sacrifices made so far will be for naught.
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 is even ethical to travel at all, particularly for tourism. More than fifty countries are open to U.S. travelers, a few requiring only a fever check at the airport, some with mandatory quarantine periods, and most needing proof of a negative COVID test taken between 48 hours and seven days prior to travel. Due to the high case numbers in the U.S. and several abrupt changes in advice from the CDC, Americans continue to face more restrictions than residents of most other countries. Many countries continue to recommend their citizens not travel at all, internationally, or even outside of their state or province. For those who must travel during the pandemic, we’ve created a free guidebook: Fodor’s Guide to Safe and Healthy Travel.
Physical distancing and mask-wearing are strongly encouraged when in public and, increasingly, are mandatory, sometimes enforced via fines for non-compliance. Everyone is worried about revitalizing economies that are in deep recession and many countries are reopening their economies before their peak of cases has passed. Protests in the U.S. and around the world have slowed down, though the need for justice, equal rights, and an end to police brutality and systemic racism continue to outweigh COVID risks. New COVID outbreaks related to equal rights protests have not been reported, likely due to the prevalence of masks at these events.
We outline what you need to know, but remind you that the World Health Organization (WHO) is the expert source for health advice.
The Latest Statistics
On October 19, the world passed the 40 million case mark, after passing one million deaths on September 28. The WHO says actual case and death numbers are most likely much higher than confirmed cases, estimating that 10% of the world’s population has been infected with COVID. Cases continue to rise by more than two million per week. According to Worldometers, as of October 21, 2020, there are 41,189,010 cases of COVID-19 and at least 1,131,503 people have died. At least 30,708,716 people around the world have recovered.
Six countries now have more than one million COVID cases, with Spain and Argentina newly crossing that threshold. After remaining stable for weeks, the ranking of nations by cases continues to change throughout October. Last week France moved into the number ten spot, and now has the eighth highest case count in the world. Spain remains the fifth most affected country. After moving into seventh spot last week, Argentina now has the world’s sixth highest number of cases.
As of October 21, the top 10 nations with high incidences are the U.S. (8,524,139 cases, 226,273 deaths), India (7,669,023 cases, 116,052 deaths), Brazil (5,274,817 cases, 154,888 deaths), Russia (1,447,335 cases, 24,952 deaths), Spain (1,029,668 cases, 34,210 deaths), Argentina (1,018,999 cases, 27,100 deaths), Colombia (974,139 cases, 29,272 deaths), France (930,745 cases, 33,885 deaths), Peru (874,118 cases, 33,875 deaths), and Mexico (860,714 cases, 86,893 deaths). China, the first country to report the disease, has reported 85,715 cases and 4,634 deaths—more than 50 countries now have more cases than China.
COVID-19 is in 215 countries and territories, using the United Nations’ geoscheme definitions. The Territory of the Wallis and Futuna Islands—French-administered islands in the South Pacific—is the latest to have a confirmed COVID case, as of October 16. The case was brought by an asymptomatic traveler from New Caledonia who arrived on October 3, despite a mandatory travel quarantine in place for both islands. Prior to that, the Solomon Islands was the most recent sovereign state with a confirmed COVID case, recording its first case on October 3. While North Korea reported its first suspected COVID case on July 26, those results were deemed inconclusive on August 5, The Guardian reported. Prior to this, Lesotho was the most recent country to report its first COVID case, on May 13.
On August 22, Business Insider listed the countries that then had zero COVID cases. They’re almost all in the South Pacific: the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. North Korea and Turkmenistan were also on the list with caveats that both countries are known to be secretive. Turkmenistan was described as a dictatorship and known to repress information (it has previously, for example, claimed that it had zero residents with HIV, which experts say is impossible).
The Latest News
The WHO reported that self-isolation and quarantine failures are one of the causes for rising COVID rates in the northern hemisphere—meaning individuals who refused to follow the rules and jurisdictions that failed to enforce measures consistently. The WHO’s emergencies director said virus transmission could be curtailed if “every contact of a confirmed case is in quarantine for the appropriate period.”
The WHO also reported that 42 different vaccine candidates are in the human-testing phase with an additional 156 on track. While testing results may come for one or two of these vaccines in 2020, most study results are expected in 2021. The U.K. cautioned that a vaccine won’t be widely available until spring 2021 at the earliest.
Scientists continue to make the case that “herd immunity” without a vaccine is both unethical and impossible, and would result in countless unnecessary deaths and long term disabilities. A report from the CDC says that so far this year, the U.S. has had 300,000 more deaths than it normally would have, an increase of almost 15%. The “excess death” rate of 25- to 44-years olds is 26.5% higher than in previous years, reported to be the largest change of any age group. The CDC also said the pandemic has taken a “disproportionate toll” on the Black and Latinx communities.
A related study by a Harvard professor said that in the U.S. alone the pandemic has taken 2.5 million person-years of life and “productive, active, and happy existence.” Contradicting misperceptions that COVID mostly kills elderly people, Stephen Elledge’s report said that, on average, men’s lives were cut short by 13.93 years and women’s by 12.45 years.
Cases are surging in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, but also in South American countries like Argentina and Colombia. Many countries continue to report record numbers of new daily cases and several countries report record numbers of COVID daily deaths.
European countries are taking some of the most restrictive measures to get their surging cases under control—see our Europe update for details. Healthcare systems are at risk in many countries including Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland. In Poland, the national stadium is being turned into a field hospital.
Ireland is returning to its strictest stay-at-home lockdown for a six-week period, with the exception that schools will remain open. Wales is entering a two-week “firebreak” lockdown including closing schools and hotels. Lockdowns are being imposed in Manchester, England and in parts of Germany and Spain. Curfews are being introduced in several parts of Italy, are being expanded to more cities in France, and are being discussed for Spain. Belgium has a curfew in place and has closed bars and restaurants for a month. Scotland extended its restrictions. Masks are mandatory outdoors in Bulgaria as of October 22.
Both Canada and Mexico announced further extensions on the closure of their borders with the United States. The Canadian land, sea, and air borders remain closed to nonessential travel, with the prime minister saying “The U.S. is not in a place where we would feel comfortable reopening those borders.” Canada’s COVID cases have also been rising, passing the 200,000 case mark on October 19. The prime minister also cautioned “snowbirds”—Canadians who spend winter months in southern climes—about the risks of travel and that repatriation flights that brought many traveling Canadians home in the spring are unlikely to be repeated. The Mexican land border also remains closed to nonessential travel, although Mexico is welcoming air passengers, particularly to tourist favorites like the Cancun, Baja, and Puerto Vallarta areas.
Variety reported news about the reopening of California’s theme parks. Government officials announced October 20 that large theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood cannot reopen until their county’s COVID risk drops to the yellow or minimal level (i.e. less than one new case per 100,000 in the population and positive testing under 2%). Orange County, home to Disneyland, is currently at the red level, with new daily cases between 4 and 7 per 100,000 and positive testing between 4% and 7%. Los Angeles County, home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain, is at the highest level, purple.
At Heathrow airport in London, rapid LAMP (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests are now available providing results within an hour at a cost of 80 pounds (about $100 US). LAMP tests are more accurate than rapid antigen tests and don’t need a laboratory to process the results. The tests are first available for passengers to Hong Kong and Italy. Testing for inbound passengers is awaiting government approval and may influence the U.K.’s quarantine rules.
England’s “green list” of destinations exempt from quarantine was most recently updated effective October 18, when Crete, Greece was added and Italy and the microstates of San Marino and Vatican City were removed from the green list. In mid-September, England also implemented new fines up to 10,000 pounds for people who do not comply with quarantine. See our latest Europe update for details on how England’s list has changed over time and what applies to Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
The E.U. ‘s green list, originally with 14 countries when first released June 30, remains at ten, plus China if it removes restrictions on E.U. travelers. Individual European countries continue to set their own rules. Following calls for improved clarity and predictability of travel rules, the E.U. president’s proposal for consistent color-coded measures of each E.U. country’s epidemiological situation was approved on October 13. See the E.U.’s A Common Approach on COVID-19 Travel Measures and our Europe update for details.
The Maldives, which reopened its borders in July, introduced a loyalty program and insurance program to encourage tourism to its 1192 tropical islands. The Maldives Border Miles 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.
When St. Kitts and Nevis reopens on October 31, entry rules will vary depending on residency and where the traveler is coming from. Travelers from outside CARICOM and the Caribbean bubble—such as travelers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe—will have several requirements. These include providing certification of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel, completing an entry form (at covid19.gov.kn), and downloading a contact tracing app for use within the first 14 days on the island. Visitors will need to stay within their resort for the first seven days and, after another negative PCR test on day seven (at own expense), may book specific excursions. After a negative PCR test on day 14 (at own expense), visitors may integrate fully into St. Kitts and Nevis.
Awareness amongst the public is growing about how COVID is transmitted and that masks offer the best protections when you’re near people you don’t live with. Masks are essential both for protecting nearby people and also help protect the wearer from COVID-19. However, face shields alone are ineffective at trapping droplets and do not protect others. Several companies are introducing new products to help make wearing masks more comfortable. For example, Cabeau Tape is an FDA- and dermatologist-approved reusable tape for use with both paper and fabric masks. Sealing the top of a mask helps prevent glasses from fogging, and the tape can prevent masks from slipping below the nose, prevent the need to keep readjusting the mask (which spreads contamination to the mask and to your hands), and reduces the need to use mask ear loops, which can cause irritation.
We’ve integrated previous news into the sections below.
Earlier News and Changing Travel Restrictions
CommonPass—the new digital health pass under development by the World Economic Forum and Common Project Foundation—may be a key way for governments to use COVID testing in ways that better protect their own citizens and travelers to their countries, and therefore improve confidence in travel. CommonPass aims to establish standards for lab certification and testing (and, eventually, vaccination) status. This will allow 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. In October, CommonPass trials are being expanded to international flights starting with United and Cathay Pacific between New York, London, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
On October 12, the head of the WHO reported that new daily cases around the world are at a record high and that “each of the last four days has seen the highest number of cases reported so far.” He called discussions about herd immunity without a vaccine “scientifically and ethically problematic,” noting that “immunity is achieved by protecting people from the virus, not by exposing them to it.”
Save the Children warned that West Africa is facing a hunger crisis resulting from the pandemic, with an estimated 4.8 million children under the age of 15 needing help. Oxfam said that the global response to food insecurity is “dangerously inadequate” and that in the seven most-affected countries alone, 55 million people face extreme hunger.
The WHO’s executive director said in early October that the rising rate of hospital admissions in Europe—including in the U.K., France, and Ireland—is “worrying.” Death rates in some European countries have reached record highs, although across Europe generally the rates have not climbed in parallel with hospitalization rates. However, the WHO said it was too early to draw any conclusions and that hospitalization and death rates could “reconnect, very very badly and very catastrophically unless we’re very very careful.”
Countries issuing warnings that their healthcare systems are or will soon be overloaded include Belgium and Italy. In Poland, however, health authorities and doctors are publicly disagreeing over doctors’ concerns about hospital bed and ventilator shortages. France had a record 26,000 new daily cases and a three-month high in ICU patients. Israel has one of the highest daily infection rates per capita and is opening a new COVID treatment center co-run with the army. Israel was the first country to implement a second nationwide lockdown and that lockdown was extended until October 18 as the country still has 3,000 new cases per day.
Record highs of new cases and deaths continue in many countries. The U.S. hit a two-month high on October 9 with 58,000 new daily cases. Switzerland reached a new case high on October 14, with cases doubling compared to the day before. Russia had a record high of daily deaths and continues to have record highs of daily new cases. Greece and Iran both recorded record highs of deaths per day. Canada had a record high of cases on October 8 and the prime minister called on Canadians to restrict contact with people outside their household. The majority of cases are in the provinces of Alberta, Ontario and Quebec. Croatia, the Netherlands and Slovenia also hit record highs of daily new cases.
New restrictions are in place in many countries. Announced October 13, bars and restaurants in the Netherlands are closed. The same rule was announced by Spain’s Catalan government on October 14, with restaurants only allowed takeout for two weeks starting October 15. Northern Ireland announced October 14 the closure of restaurants and schools. From October 14 to November 3 in the Czech Republic, bars, restaurants, and clubs are closed, alcohol in public spaces is banned, and there are new restrictions on public gatherings.
On October 5, the WHO estimated that one in ten people around the world may have been infected with COVID-19 (official cases are about 0.46% of the world’s population), leaving 90% vulnerable to catching the virus. Latin America is the hardest hit part of the world, both in terms of cases and deaths. New surges are in many countries, particularly in Europe but also parts of southeast Asia reports The Guardian.
Governments are trying to re-engage their citizens to do their part, despite pandemic fatigue, while trying to find the elusive balance of the right level of restrictions to control new outbreaks but not hamper economic recovery or personal freedoms. Mask use is an essential part of this and is becoming mandatory in more and more places.
Countries with high case incidences include Iran, Finland, Malaysia, Poland, and the United Arab Emirates—each with recent record numbers of new cases—as well as Tunisia, Russia, France, and Spain. Argentina, reports The Guardian, has the highest rate of positive COVID tests in the world, with 60% of people tested receiving a positive test. This rate is up from 40% in August. Mexico also saw a record increase in both daily new cases and deaths on October 5, although officials say this is because of a change in how cases are classified.
Europe continues to be hard hit by the second wave of infections. Spain’s cases have been rising particularly quickly, and in the past few weeks, Spain went from having the ninth highest number of cases in the world to sixth and as of October 13 is at fifth. In France, the number of ICU patients crossed a critical threshold on October 5, surpassing the 1,400 mark for the first time since the end of May. Bars in Paris are closed as of October 6; restaurants, despite a warning last week when the city reached the “maximum alert” case level, remain open on the condition that they strictly enforce COVID rules. Museums and theaters remain open. Italy is discussing making masks mandatory in outdoor spaces across the country (it’s currently the rule in Lazio and Campania).
Many countries continue to open their borders, fully or to an increased degree. While COVID tests are seen as a key element of increasing international travel, the rise of infections in the White House is a prominent example of how tests need to be used properly and in conjunction with other measures to minimize virus transmission.
Concern remains about information coming out of the U.S.’s CDC. The New York Times broke the news on September 17 that late-August changes to the CDC’s COVID testing guidelines were made over the objections of CDC scientists. Reportedly, the Department of Health and Human Services and White House COVID task force changed the CDC’s advice to recommend that people with known contact with a COVID carrier did not need to get tested if they had no symptoms. The advice was changed again, with the CDC again recommending that everyone who has suspected COVID contact should get tested, as is consistent with the advice of the WHO and other countries. On September 21, the CDC removed information that COVID could be spread through aerosolized droplets that had been posted on their site a few days earlier. The CDC said the information was in draft and posted in error. On October 5, the CDC again updated its guidelines that “COVID-19 can sometimes be spread by airborne transmission” and “there is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than six feet away.” In a separate article, U.S. scientists said “The reality is airborne transmission is the main way that transmission happens at close range with prolonged contact,” and that aerosolized droplets can remain in the air for hours. Also on October 5, The New York Times reported that the White House is blocking the FDA from releasing vaccine guidelines, said to be because this would eliminate the possibility of a vaccine being approved prior to the November presidential election
European airlines are experimenting with a new pre-flight COVID test which takes 15 minutes to provide results, reports Al Jazeera, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) encouraging all airlines to adopt the practice. The antigen test requires a nasal swab but no machinery to process the results, and are already being used for special “COVID-free” Alitalia flights between Milan and Rome. However, the tests have an even higher false-negative rate than the now-standard molecular PCR tests—increasing the number of people who believe they are virus-free when they are not.
Virtually all airlines have a mask policy, with several countries enacting regulations at a national level. After mixed reports of enforcement of mask rules, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) appealed for “common sense and responsibility” from the small minority of people refusing to wear masks and called for them to comply with the rules and protect their fellow passengers and crew aboard flights. National Geographic published “How clean is the air on planes?” making the case for the importance of mask use.
United Airlines launched a digital map tool, Destination Travel Guide, showing the status of U.S. states as fully or partially open or closed, and detailing COVID requirements like testing and quarantine rules. A group of engineers from MIT created a new website, Covid.Control.com, to help reduce confusion over restrictions and rules within each country. An interactive map provides, by country, details on the epidemiological situation, current restrictions, and the infrastructure of interest to travelers that’s open and closed.
Governments, health authorities, airlines, and those who work in travel around the world continue to grapple with how to reopen tourism while keeping travelers and, especially, populations at destinations safe from COVID. One initiative to help is CommonPass, under development by the World Economic Forum and the Commons Project. Via CommonPass, governments and airlines will be able to validate travelers’ COVID testing and—once it’s developed— vaccination status in order to facilitate international travel and help improve consistency in testing requirements. CNN published an article explaining the differences between various types of COVID tests and how they apply to travel.
In late September, Nature reported that some health care workers are being reinfected by COVID and that the virus is mutating. The CBC described new research that the dominant strain of the COVID virus found in North America and Europe is a more infectious mutation.
With the number of confirmed COVID deaths now over one million, the head of the WHO reiterated the importance of countries bridging national boundaries and working together. The European Union’s health commissioner said September 25 that in many E.U. countries, the pandemic is worse now than it was in the spring. Many heads of government are declaring that the COVID situation in their jurisdiction requires drastic measures to get back under control. Citizens are being called upon to do their part to maintain physical distance from anyone not in their household and wear masks when in public in order to avoid the return of lockdowns, ensure economies can continue to reopen, and to protect health care systems and lives.
In late September, The New York Times reported that COVID cases are surging in at least 73 countries including the U.S., Canada, India, and much of western Europe. Cases were already expected to rise because of students returning to school and colder weather in the northern hemisphere making safer outdoor interactions more difficult. In many countries, cases began resurging in mid-July or August and efforts were not significant enough to bring them down to more manageable levels prior to the start of school. Initially, hospitalization and death rates did not rise at the same rate as new cases, but that is changing. In the U.S. alone 800 people die every day from COVID-19, says the Times. More than 20% of the world’s COVID deaths—over 200,000 people—are in the U.S.
On September 23, the United Nations and the World Health Organization made a joint statement about the “infodemic” of COVID misinformation and disinformation. They called on governments to “develop and implement action plans” to combat the problem while still respecting freedoms of expression, and for the media and social media platforms to do their part to ensure people receive accurate information to help protect the health of the world’s population.
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 decades of efforts to improve poverty levels will otherwise be lost and result in increased social and economic upheaval around the world. She said that a billion people in 70 countries face “unprecedented human and economic devastation” and that 90 million people are at risk of extreme poverty. The United Nations said that 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.
It’s not just developing countries that are at risk—a report by the European Court of Auditors said that 23 million kids (one in four) in the E.U. are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. As far as COVID cases go, the American Academy of Pediatrics reported September 29 that in the U.S., children and teens now make up 10% of all COVID cases when it was only two percent in April. The extent that school is being disrupted due to COVID—and the long-term consequences—has not been calculated.
The WHO is rolling out new rapid low-cost antigen tests to low- and middle-income countries. The tests do not require labs or highly-trained health workers to process and provide results in about 15 to 30 minutes; however, they are not as accurate as laboratory PCR tests. The new tests are seen as a major enabler to provide testing in remote locations and to quickly assess clusters of cases to aid with contact tracing and quarantine.
A report by the Air Transport Action Group released September 30 projected that 46 million jobs around the world are at risk due to COVID-caused travel slowdown, half the 88 million jobs that directly or indirectly support the travel industry. A high profile example is Disney, which announced September 29 that 28,000 theme park jobs are being cut. Disney has reopened its parks, with limited capacity, in all locations (i.e. Orlando, Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, and Tokyo) except California.
On September 13, the WHO reported the highest ever single-day number of new COVID cases: 307,930 new infections in 24 hours. A COVID-19 envoy from the WHO said September 15 that “This is really serious—we’re not even in the middle of it yet. We’re still at the beginning of it,” and said cases surging in Europe appear to be “getting nastier.” He expressed concern about the rates of illness and deaths and the dire economic situation around the world, predicting consequences like “double the number of poor people” and of malnourished people and “hundreds of millions of small businesses going bankrupt.” Previous goals of ending world poverty, hunger, and gender inequality by 2030 have been “kicked backwards,” says a report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The director of UNICEF expressed concern on September 15 that half of the world’s schoolchildren have not returned to the classroom. She said that 872 million children are not allowed to attend classes in person and half of those aren’t able to study remotely. These children are now more at risk of child labor, abuse of all kinds, and less able to break the cycle of poverty. UNICEF projects that at least 24 million children are likely to drop out of school because of the pandemic.
As reported in our Europe update on September 11, at the six-month mark following the declaration of a worldwide pandemic, the head of the WHO said his greatest worry is the lack of solidarity to address COVID-19. He called for global leadership, particularly from world powers, and for the world to work together to fight the disease. At the same time, the head of the United Nations expressed concern over the lack of funding for the development of vaccines and other treatments. Calling COVID-19 “the number one global security threat,” he said $35 billion is needed, including $15 billion over the next three months. This is on top of the $3 billion that many countries already contributed to the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator program.
The CEO of the world’s largest producer of vaccines, The Serum Institute of India, said September 13 that vaccine producers are not increasing their production capacity enough to be able to provide the world’s population with enough COVID vaccine, should a safe and effective one be discovered. At the current rate of production, he predicted the end of 2024 as the earliest point that the expected 15 million doses (two doses per person) could be ready. The Financial Times describes how other experts predict that perhaps 75 percent of the world’s population might be able to be vaccinated by mid-2023 and that this may be enough to stall the transmission of COVID.
Several countries—China, the U.S., and Russia, for example—have announced they are likely to soon release vaccines. Germany’s minister of research, however, said “we won’t take risky short-cuts here” and “I also believe that all countries should proceed in this way globally.” In a 2015-19 worldwide study about trust in vaccines, The Lancet medical journal concluded that public trust in vaccines is growing in Europe, but falling in many other parts of the world. The study showed that political instability, misinformation, and religious extremism are linked with a lack of trust in the safety of vaccines. In mid-September, Bill Gates expressed concerns about the politicization of the CDC and FDA—regulators responsible for vaccine safety and effectiveness—about inequality in populations affected by COVID-19 and, potentially, in vaccine distribution. Bill and Melinda Gates are funding vaccine development through their foundation.
A UN taskforce on aviation met September 15 and plans to provide non-binding recommendations for an October 29 meeting about how countries can use COVID testing to reduce mandatory quarantine, Reuters reported. Mandatory quarantine is thought to be one of the biggest hurdles in restarting travel, although is one of the most effective ways to prevent travelers from bringing the virus with them, whether abroad or when they return home. However, the U.S. announced plans to stop the enhanced airport screening for COVID that currently takes place for travelers coming from countries deemed high risk (Brazil, China, Europe’s Schengen region, Iran, and the U.K.).
There are renewed calls for the world to tackle COVID-19 together. The head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that fighting a global pandemic in isolation and the closing of individual borders isn’t working. He called for greater cooperation to restart aviation and to take a risk-management approach to quarantine and opening borders reported Travelweek.
The U.S. decided not to participate in the WHO’s Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) program, where 150 countries are working together to develop and fairly distribute a portfolio of vaccines to combat COVID-19. ABC News reported that the North American director of the U2-founded advocacy organization The ONE Campaign said, “Not only does this move put the lives of millions around the world at risk, it could completely isolate Americans from an effective vaccine against COVID-19.”
Over concern that the United States is rushing vaccine development so that distribution can start in advance of the November presidential elections, nine pharmaceutical companies pledged to “uphold the integrity of the scientific process.” On September 8, one of the companies—AstraZeneca—put its late-stage clinical trial on hold because of an adverse reaction, reported The Guardian.
Reports of a few patients getting infected twice with COVID-19 continue, with a 25-year-old Nevada man the latest to have gotten sick from two different strains of the virus (the second time requiring hospitalization). There is concern that if infection doesn’t bring immunity, “immunity passports” will be impossible and the long-term effectiveness of vaccination questionable. Previously, doctors confirmed that a patient in Hong Kong, one in Belgium, and one in the Netherlands have all been reinfected twice.
Several airlines are stepping up their enforcement to encourage compliance. Lufthansa, as of September 1, requires a medical certificate as well as a negative COVID test less than 48 hours old in order to be exempt from the airline’s mask rules. Also as of September 1, Canada’s WestJet announced a zero-tolerance policy and that if passengers “choose to not wear a mask, they are choosing not to fly our airlines.” A consequence of ignoring the Transport Canada mask requirement includes being placed on WestJet’s no-fly list for 12 months. Medical exemptions require a doctor’s letter.
Canadian airlines and airports are also implementing new measures to increase safety and travel confidence, with many in the travel industry calling for the government to relax its strict COVID travel rules. The Government of Canada, in addition to extending the closure of the U.S. border to August 21 and continuing to advise Canadians against international travel, extended to September 30 the requirement for a 14-day quarantine for anyone entering the country. WestJet is piloting a COVID testing program at the Vancouver airport and Air Canada is doing the same in Toronto.
JFK, La Guardia, and Newark airports are expanding COVID testing to all passengers. New York’s infection rate is at 0.66%, the lowest since the pandemic hit in full force in March, and the state will continue its mandatory quarantine for visitors from 35 states.
The United Nations gave a policy briefing on the tourism sector on August 25. The UN Secretary General said that, due to the pandemic, international tourist arrivals are down by more than half during the first five months of 2020. More than $320 billion in exports has been lost (this is three times the loss in 2009, the year of the last global financial crisis) and more than 120 million jobs are at risk (as are 144 million related jobs in associated sectors like food service). The crisis is affecting all nations, although islands, African countries, and developing countries are the worst affected, said the Secretary General. He also discussed how important tourism is for small businesses and for the conservation of cultural and natural heritage. He used wildlife tourism as a specific example, saying that reductions in tourism revenue have resulted in habitat destruction and increased poaching (7% of world tourism is linked to wildlife, and this segment of tourism was growing at a rate of 3% annually). 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.
Transportation-wise, Delta announced August 20 that the airline will continue to block middle seats into January 2021. The EPA has approved a new cleaning agent that kills viruses—including the one that causes COVID-19—for seven days. The product reduces virus concentration by more than 90% after 10 minutes of contact and by more than 99.9% after two hours. The product is called Surfacewise 2 and is made by Allied BioScience; American Airlines is the first airline to test it. Several airlines are announcing staff layoffs, and American Airlines has temporarily cut service to some small cities, including New Haven, Connecticut, and Roswell, New Mexico.
Additional countries are reopening and others announcing reopening plans, however, the CDC and State Department continue to advise against international travel classifying most countries at the level 4 and 3 travel advisory level, with a very small number at level 2 and 1. Countries are implementing different reopening rules and protocols based on different evidence, and confusion remains about which rules apply where and to whom. The International Air Transport Association launched a world map detailing travel requirements to help.
The WHO said on August 18 that it is primarily people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who are transmitting COVID-19 to others, often without realizing they are carrying the virus. While some younger people have no or mild symptoms, the Guardian quoted Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist, who said “we are seeing young people who are ending up in [the] ICU. Young people are dying from this virus.” Countries around the world are appealing to their younger populations to do their part to protect their family members, fellow citizens, and healthcare systems.
The WHO also launched a new shared vaccine appeal on August 18 by sending a letter to the leader of every country. The letter requested each country join in the WHO’s global shared vaccine program and outlined a worldwide plan to distribute an eventual vaccine fairly and to first vaccinate the planet’s most vulnerable populations, making the case that this is a key initiative to reopen and rebuild the world’s economy. The WHO said the first people to receive the vaccine should be “the most-exposed 20 percent of each country’s population” which would include front-line health workers and people over the age of 65 who have pre-existing conditions. Warnings are coming from many sources, including the pope, that vaccine nationalism and vaccines going first to rich countries or rich people would make the pandemic worse.
Reuters reported on August 19 that Germany and France are seeking consensus “from Washington to Beijing” on a proposal to reform the WHO. They want to give the health agency more power and funding so that its mandate of preventing pandemics and helping governments fight them has sufficient legal authority and financial resources. Examples of reforms are to empower the WHO to be more critical of countries that don’t respect transparency and to reduce excessive external influences.
Though tourism is reopening, the economic and health situation is still grim. On June 10, the OECD reported that all its 37 member countries are in a recession, global GDP is in the sharpest decline since the creation of the OECD in 1961, and the world is on track for the most severe peacetime recession in a century. On June 24, the International Monetary Fund projected the world’s economy will shrink by 4.9% in 2020, worse than its April prediction. Some countries will fare worse; South Africa predicts its economy will shrink by 7.2%. Poverty and starvation will follow in many countries. In mid-June the UN raised concerns about food security in Latin America, saying 40 million people are at risk of hunger. The World Wildlife Fund published a report on June 17 making the case that the COVID pandemic—as well as likely future pandemics—is due to humans’ “destruction of nature” through agriculture, deforestation, and the trade-in wildlife. The WWF issued a comprehensive call to action for governments, industry, civil organizations, and members of the public to “mend our broken relationship with nature.”
June 30 was the six-month anniversary of when the World Health Organization first received reports from China of unexplained cases of pneumonia. In his June 29 remarks, the head of the WHO reminded that “national unity and global solidarity are essential” for saving lives and reducing the economic and social costs of COVID-19. He also warned that “the worst is yet to come.” The Guardian reported on a July 1 United Nations statement that the world is expected to lose 3.3 trillion in tourism revenue and that the United States will be the hardest hit country. Other countries listed which are likely to incur high losses are China, France, Thailand, and Jamaica.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization announced on June 4 that “the time has come to restart tourism” (this followed their May 31 announcement 31 that 100% of the world’s destinations had travel restrictions in place, 75% had borders closed completely to international tourists, and 3% of destinations had started easing restrictions in some way).
Governments continue to release and adjust green lists of countries that are allowed entry into their borders, but there are few similarities between the lists. Some lists are based on the country you’re traveling from, and others based on the passport you carry or your country of residence. Other countries are publishing red, orange, and yellow lists of countries that face additional travel restrictions. Countries with green, yellow/orange, and/or red lists include Tunisia, Norway, Ukraine, Hungary, Malta, Malaysia, and Ireland. Aruba and Jamaica have red lists of high-risk U.S. states.
Several airlines announced they’ll no longer block middle seats on flights, given the International Air Transport Association’s advice that HEPA filters and mask-wearing are sufficient. Delta Air Lines is an exception, Delta plans to continue to block middle seats until early 2021.
Delta is placing people on their no-fly list (over 100 so far) because the passengers refused to wear a mask, which has been required since May. Pilots returned to the gate on several occasions because passengers refused to wear their masks onboard. Both Delta and United are closing loopholes that passengers had been taking advantage of, but are providing mechanisms for passengers with documented medical exemptions to fly. American and Southwest announced the only allowable exemptions to wearing masks onboard are children under two years old. However, reports continue of small numbers of passengers who refuse to comply with mask rules, despite the requests of crew.
The Guardian reported that it will likely be 2024 until air travel recovers to pre-pandemic levels, according to an airline trade association. To help boost travel, Emirates is providing passengers with free COVID insurance. Emirates passengers will have any COVID-related expenses covered up to 150,000 euros if they’re diagnosed with the virus during travel. It affects passengers flying up to October 31 and is valid for 31 days after the beginning of their trip.
Portugal is the latest country offering insurance for COVID-19, reports Travelweek. Spain’s Canary Islands are also offering to cover COVID medical expenses. Uzbekistan is luring back tourists with a promise of $3,000—the equivalent of a hospital stay—if they contract COVID-19 there, as we describe in This Country Offered Tourists $3,000 to Lure Them Back–Did It Work? Cyprus, reports CNBC, will cover accommodations, food, and medications for tourists who contract the virus there.
Some hotel groups are now implementing insurance initiatives. Palladium Hotel Group is offering free COVID health insurance for guests at its hotels in the Americas and Spain. Any incidents that are directly related to COVID-19 during guests’ stays will be covered. Palladium’s properties include Grand Palladium resorts and TRS hotels in Mexico, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Spain.
Club Med expanded its Emergency Assistance Program to include COVID-19 coverage for all trips to any of its resorts until April 30, 2021, TravelPulse reported. Club Med Sandpiper Bay opened June 12, Turkoise will open September 5, and other Caribbean resorts reopen October 17 and in December.
For 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?
Europe’s spikes in new cases continue with cases in several countries at highs not seen since the spring. Bloomberg Opinion published Did Europe Make a Mistake Reopening Its Borders on August 22, saying that “the experiment has backfired” since many of the new cases are traceable to travelers. Spain remains the worst-affected country in Europe after Russia.
On October 12, the U.K.’s prime minister announced a new three-tiered COVID restriction system for England, to simplify and standardize rules. It comes into effect October 14 with specific rules for areas designated medium, high, and very high. Liverpool is in the “very high” tier, resulting in the closing of bars and pubs and bans on the mixing of households.
Efforts to reopen travel also continue. The E.U.’s new guidelines are expected by the end of October. Spain established new travel corridor protocols between the Canary and Balearic Islands and European countries, said to be in alignment with the forthcoming E.U. guidelines.
Travel to the Spanish islands is guided by a case threshold called an Accumulated Incidence (AI). That AI is 50 new COVID cases per 100,000 in the population over the last 14 days. Travelers from destinations with an AI below 50 would not need any COVID testing or quarantine. Travelers from destinations with an AI above 50 would need to provide certification of a negative test taken within 48 hours prior to their flight. Travelers leaving the islands would also need a COVID test 48 hours prior to their flight, with testing done at designated centers with costs covered by the regional government. A positive COVID test would result in quarantine at the cost of the local government.
European countries facing record numbers of new daily cases in late September include the Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, and Slovenia. The prime minister of the Czech Republic, known as the “billionaire populist,” said September 21 that his government made a mistake in easing restrictions too early, a mistake which he does not want to repeat. Iran is said to be in the third wave of the pandemic, with more than 3,000 new cases per day.
In mid-September, Greece announced new COVID measures, given that their cases doubled in August and because of evidence that the virus is spreading amongst people who have no known link to each other, The Guardian reported. Masks are now required in all enclosed spaces in Greece (including in cinemas and theaters, which can operate at a maximum of 60% capacity); there are new caps on street markets, restaurant dining, and social gatherings; and nightclubs are closed for the next two weeks. Portugal also announced new restrictions, including banning drinking alcohol in the street and new limits on the size of social gatherings.
Germany had been providing mandatory testing of travelers from high-risk countries at airports, train stations, and other testing stations. Passengers got the test for free, but the country was planning to add a tax to fares to cover the cost. With a negative test, travelers could avoid a 14-day quarantine. However, the Associated Press reported on August 26 that Germany’s health minister announced an end to this mandatory testing program, said to be due to limitations in lab capacity and because of the end of the summer high-travel period. Instead, Germany will return to focusing testing on those with symptoms and those who have potentially been exposed to the virus, as guided by contact tracing. The new rule for travelers from high-risk areas is to quarantine for at least five days prior to taking a COVID test, which will only be free if ordered by a doctor. The Guardian reported that 40% of Germany’s new COVID cases are thought to be contracted outside of the country.
Outbreaks started climbing again in Europe in mid-July. In early August, The Guardian reported that several western European countries are facing significant rises in infection and that French authorities said the country “could lose control of COVID-19 at any time.” Germany, Greece, Turkey, and the Netherlands, amongst others, all report rapid increases in case numbers. Greece’s prime minister said it was due to “complacency” and that only 10% of cases were imported from outside Greece, reported The Guardian. Face coverings are mandatory in many places across Europe, both indoors and outdoors.
After reopening for travel by Europeans (and foreign nationals with E.U. residency) on June 15, Europe opened its borders further as of July 1. Initially, residents of fourteen non-EU countries were allowed into Europe. The E.U.’s list of green-lit countries is currently at 10. The current list does not include the United States, nor did the draft list of 54 leaked on June 25. China is listed as an additional country allowed into the E.U., provided it changes its rules to again allow Europeans into China. Countries continue to lobby the E.U. to be allowed access.
On July 3, the U.K. released a list of countries and territories allowed into England without the mandatory 14-day quarantine in place for the U.K. since June 8. England’s green list has been updated multiple times, which we detail in our regularly-updated Europe coronavirus article. Each of the four U.K. countries chose to manage their green lists independently: Wales and Scotland have separate lists and Northern Ireland is using the same list as applies to England.
See our Coronavirus Outbreak: Should You Cancel a Trip to Europe? for details.
Japan announced it will reallow travel to 12 countries including Australia, China, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam in November, however it will continue to recommend only essential travel.
Japan and South Korea are opening a business travel bubble between the two countries as of October 8. To enter Japan, travelers need a negative COVID test, a 14-day quarantine, and a guarantor who will ensure they follow the rules. Japan is also determining requirements for travelers coming for the Olympics, which will now begin July 23, 2021.
Papua New Guinea expanded its border reopening—flights are now allowed from Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Solomon Islands, in addition to Australia and New Zealand. Most travelers need a negative test taken within a week of their flight, advance approval from the PNG’s pandemic response coordinator, and may need to self-isolate for seven to 14 days depending on where they’re traveling from.
The Chinese city of Wuhan reopened to international flights on September 18, after eight months and as of September 28, foreigners with Chinese residency permits are again allowed in the country. Singapore announced a new travel pass aimed at frequent business travelers on September 23 and easing of restrictions for travel between countries with low infection rates is expected in October. Japan is set to increase the number of foreigners into the country beginning in October, but the change is expected to be only for students and business travelers, not for tourists.
Thailand is expected to start reopening to tourism in October. Already allowed into Thailand since July are business travelers, people with Thai families, those seeking Thai health care services, and some migrant workers. Details are still to be confirmed, but travelers from countries with low infection rates are likely to be first welcomed. A 14-day quarantine, with a GPS wristband, is likely. A new tourist visa, allowing 90-day stays is also in the works, which can be extended up to 270 days. However, the number of such visas may be limited to 1,200 per month.
In mid-September, Indonesia’s island of Bali postponed its reopening plans to international visitors from September to 2021. Malaysia’s tourism minister said foreign visitors might be banned until the second quarter of 2021.
A study of antibodies by India’s pandemic agency, released in late September, estimated that more than 60 million people in India have likely contracted COVID-19, ten times higher than the official count of 1.6 million.
Regarding major attractions and events in Asia, the Taj Mahal, closed since March, reopened September 21, with a daily cap on visitors of 5,000. Hong Kong Disney reopened September 25 with reduced capacity. The International Olympic Committee announced September 7 that the Tokyo Olympics, postponed to summer 2021, will go ahead regardless of the state of the pandemic.
Singapore announced that as of September 1, visitors from Brunei and New Zealand will be allowed into the city-state without a 14-day quarantine, reported Business Traveller. General requirements for visitors to enter Singapore include applying (seven to 30 days in advance) for an Air Travel Pass (ATP) and getting a COVID test on arrival. Singapore also reduced the time required to self-isolate from 14 to seven days for travelers from low-risk countries, which began with Australia (excluding the state of Victoria), China, Macao, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Travelers from other locations must quarantine for 14 days at a designated facility. Information is on Singapore’s Safe Travel website.
Vietnam provides an example of how quickly a small number of cases can grow. On July 26, three COVID cases were reported in the popular tourist area of Da Nang, open only to domestic travelers for now. As of August 5, the country had 713 cases and eight deaths; as of August 11, it had 863 cases and 16 deaths. Vietnam earned a reputation for handling COVID-19 better than almost every other country—it had previously reported no COVID deaths—and hadn’t had any new cases since April. Domestic travel and other restrictions gradually lifted. At the end of July, Reuters reported that 80,000 domestic travelers needed evacuation from Da Nang. Flights, trains, and buses to and from Da Nang were suspended July 28 for at least 15 days and the city of 1.1 million is under lockdown, said CBC. On July 29, Vietnam closed bars and pubs in Hanoi and the 21,000 travelers returning from Da Nang to Hanoi received rapid COVID tests.
The Maldives, which opened its uninhabited private islands July 15, reopened hotels and guesthouses on its 200 inhabited islands to international tourists, including U.S. travelers, as of August 1. The full list of reopened resorts and information on COVID protocols for the Maldives’ 1,192 islands is available for travelers. Airlines flying to the Maldives as of July 2020 are Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, and Turkish Airlines. After a spike in cases brought by travelers to resorts, the Maldives announced September 2 that visitors will now need to provide confirmation of a negative COVID test on arrival at the airport.
Cambodia has some of the most extreme border control measures in the world. As described on the Cambodia Airports’ website, travelers need to pay a deposit of 3,000 USD to cover the costs of a COVID test, accommodations while awaiting the test results, and other costs should the test be positive. Adequate health insurance is also required for entering the country famous for the Angkor archeological site.
The Middle East
Israel is the first country to impose a second nationwide lockdown to deal with its rising cases; the three-week lockdown began September 18 during the Jewish new year. Announcements about additional restrictions are expected.
Travel to Saudi Arabia is expected to resume in early 2021 when tourist visas are reinstated. Saudi Arabia closed to all international travelers in March.
Popular tourist destination Jordan, after suspending flights for almost six months, resumed regular international flights on September 8 (Jordan delayed this from August 12). To start, the country’s main airport is allowing just six international flights per day. To enter Jordan, travelers need a negative COVID test no older than 72 hours and will also receive a test on arrival. A self-isolation or quarantine period is required, dependent on the state of the pandemic in the destination where the traveler is coming from.
There’s another indicator for destinations that have implemented COVID-protection standards. Joining the already-popular World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC)’s Safe Travels Stamp is Bureau Veritas’ SafeGuard Assurance Program, which also includes audits. The first city to receive both certifications is Ras Al Khaimah, in the United Arab Emirates. Ras Al Khaimah, known as RAK, is the most northern of the seven Emirates and features 64 kilometers of beaches and mangroves as well as the UAE’s highest mountain.
Dubai reopened on July 7 and requires travelers to complete a health declaration card and register on an app. Testing on arrival or proof of a negative COVID test is also needed. Unusually, both masks and gloves are required in Dubai’s airport. In the city, masks are required indoors and outdoors when near other people.
Cape Verde is one of the most recent countries to reopen its air and sea borders, as of October 12. To enter Cape Verde’s ten islands, travelers need a negative PCR test.
Uganda reopened its borders on October 1, with special measures to protect its mountain gorillas and chimpanzees from COVID. To enter and depart from Uganda, a negative PCR test is needed. South Africa also reopened to some international travel on October 1, with an initial red list of 50 countries (including the U.S. and U.K.) not yet allowed entry. The list will be updated every two weeks.
Namibia—popular for safaris to view rare desert elephants and to see the world’s largest sand dunes—relaxed COVID restrictions for international tourists in early September. Reuters reported that, initially, tourists were required to quarantine for seven days, but may now participate in activities and receive a COVID test on day five of their visit.
As of September 1, Egypt reopened its archeological and cultural tourism sites. A negative COVID test is required for entry into Egypt and travelers can now access more areas of the country than the coastal areas which reopened in July. Hotels, restaurants, and other facilities must get a health safety certificate from the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Egypt reopened to international tourists as of July 1, initially restricted to one of three resort areas on the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
After first announcing it would open its border fully as of June 27, Tunisia revised its reopening rules. Instead, Tunisia has both a “green list” and an “orange list” of countries. Passengers arriving from green list countries are only required to fill in an online health declaration. Passengers from orange list countries need to provide a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. Countries that are on neither list are not permitted tourist entry to Tunisia, and that includes the United States.
African countries open to tourism include Rwanda (with discounts on gorilla trekking permits). and Tanzania. South Africa is another country approaching reopening carefully, with plans to reopen domestic tourism later in 2020 and international tourism only by February 2021.
Oceania and the South Pacific
The Islands of Tahiti and French Polynesia reopened to tourism as of July 15 and recently extended generous change and cancelation policies past the original September 30 end date: for reservations made between May 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, change and cancelation fees will be waived if there’s a lockdown in French Polynesia or the traveler’s country of residence, if border closures affect transit to the islands, or if the traveler has a positive COVID test affecting their travel. Many travel businesses also committed to not implementing price increases until March 31, 2022. To enter French Polynesia, travelers need to register in advance and complete an online health commitment form, provide a negative COVID test no more than three days old, and self-administer a COVID test four days after arrival (the kit is provided free of charge upon arrival). Masks are mandatory, indoors and outdoors, when physical distancing is difficult.
New Zealand and Australia hope to reopen the travel bubble between the two countries by Christmas, according to a late September statement by New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Arden. After conquering COVID and declaring itself COVID-free, New Zealand had a small resurgence in cases starting in mid-August, which it again brought under control in September. Progress to reopening borders was delayed due to the resurgence of cases in Australia’s Victoria state and the resulting lockdown which began in early July.
Australia is limiting the number of Australian citizens and permanent residents that can return home from abroad—an unusual move given most democracies allow an unconditional right of return to their citizens. Initially, only 4,000 Australians were allowed back into the country per week though, in September, those numbers increased. Al Jazeera also reports that returning Australians will now need to fund their mandatory two-week quarantine period.
The Islands of Tahiti reopened to tourism as of July 15. To enter French Polynesia, travelers need to register in advance on the Etis.pf platform (Electronic Travel Information System), provide a negative COVID test no more than three days old, and self-administer a COVID test four days after arrival (the kit is provided free of charge upon arrival). Masks are mandatory, indoors and outdoors, when physical distancing is difficult. The Islands of Tahiti and French Polynesia have a generous change and cancelation policy in effect, recently extended past its original September 30 end date. For reservations made between May 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, change and cancelation fees will be waived if there’s a lockdown in French Polynesia or the traveler’s country of residence, if border closures affect transit to the islands, or if the traveler has a positive COVID test affecting their travel. Many travel businesses also committed to not implementing price increases until March 31, 2022.
Bloomberg reported that the Caribbean is facing a once-in-a-century tourism shock with a best-case scenario of losing 50% of its 2020 tourism revenue. Several islands opened in June with more in July and August, including to U.S. passport holders. Starting in mid-July, several islands began reinstituting some restrictions in response to new cases amongst travelers. Many Caribbean destinations are open to tourists, but be sure to check and recheck requirements as they change quickly.
The Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis is reopening on October 31. Cuba is reopening further, with 13 of its 16 provinces now open to tourists. However, Havana is not yet open due to a second wave of cases there.
In the Caribbean, the three-island nation of Grenada is easing restrictions for U.S. travelers. Details are on Pure Grenada’s website. Grenada’s entry rules depend on whether you’re arriving from within the CARICOM bubble, from a green-listed low-risk country, or from other countries. Most travelers will need to make advance reservations from Grenada’s Pure Safe list of approved accommodations (minimum four-day stay) and test negative on day four of their stay to leave their hotel’s premises. To enter Grenada, a negative PCR test taken within seven days of travel is needed, as is filling out a health form and downloading a contact tracing app. JetBlue resumed flights to Grenada on October 3 and American Airlines restarts flights on October 8; Sandals Grenada, on Pink Gin Beach, reopened on October 1.
St. Kitts and Nevis is reopening its air and sea borders on October 31. Travelweek reports that it’s the last of the Caribbean nations to reopen. Entry requirements haven’t yet been announced. In Cuba, the popular tourist peninsula of Varadero is reopening as of October 15 with only those approved able to cross the new tourist zone perimeter, reports Travelweek. Travelers take a free PCR test upon arrival at the airport and must have COVID-19 insurance (or buy Cuban medical insurance coverage upon arrival).
In The Bahamas, the 14-day “Vacation in Place” requirement to stay within the hotel’s premises for the duration of stay ends October 31. As of November 1, a negative PCR test taken within seven days of travel is required, as is a rapid antigen test on arrival and on day four of the stay. Antigen test costs are covered by the Bahamas Health Travel Visa fee, which visitors need to apply for in advance. The cost varies by length of stay. Masks are required in the Bahamas.
The Dominican Republic changed its COVID arrival rules as of September 15. New measures include the end of the requirement for a proof of a negative PCR test; instead, some passengers will be randomly selected for a rapid breath test on arrival. Until at least December 31, foreigners who stay at a Dominican Republic hotel will also receive, at no cost, COVID insurance for “emergency coverage, telemedicine services, long-stay accommodation, and flight change costs.”
On August 24, Travelweek reported the following Caribbean countries require certification of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) for entry: Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Curacao, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Granada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Sint Maarten.
Several Caribbean islands are banding together to market themselves to visitors, reported Travelweek: Anguilla, Saba, Saint Barth, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts, and Nevis, and the island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten. Anguilla reopened August 21 and visitors need to apply for entry. The Caribbean Journal reported that those coming from low-risk countries will be given preference over those from high-risk countries, and everyone must show proof of health insurance covering COVID expenses and provide a negative PRC test taken with three to five days of arrival. Saint Kitts and Nevis plans to reopen its borders in October, the prime minister announced August 11. For now, a 14-day quarantine is planned with the need to submit a negative test 72 hours before arrival and to test negative before being released from quarantine.
The U.S. Virgin Islands reclosed its borders for tourism on August 19 and the islands’ accommodations are not allowed to check-in guests or accept new reservations for a 30-day period. Business travelers, government workers, emergency staff, and air crews are exempt from the new rules. Nonessential businesses closed on August 17 and everyone is encouraged to stay at home for two weeks. The Cayman Islands, originally planning a September 1 reopening, has delayed reopening until at least October.
The Bahamas temporarily halted commercial flights from the U.S., but then reinstated them at the same time as announcing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone visiting The Bahamas. All foreigners arriving in the country must provide a negative COVID test, complete a health visa application, quarantine for 14 days in a designated facility at passenger expense, and test negative before releasing from quarantine. This is in response to a significant rise in COVID cases since the country reopened to tourism July 1—rising from about 50 on July 1 to cases 715 as of August 4. A 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is in place, inter-island travel stopped as of July 28, beaches and parks are closed, gatherings prohibited, and face masks required in many circumstances.
Bermuda updated its entry protocols and now requires a negative COVID test within 48 hours of departure as well as three in-country tests after arrival, on day four, eight, and 14 of stay. A mandatory $75 US arrival fee covers the cost of testing. A Bermuda Travel Authorization must be completed within 48 hours of departure to Bermuda. As well, Bermuda is joining Barbados and Chile in offering year-long visas to some visitors. Bermuda’s One Year Residential Certificate Policy allows work, research, or study on a 12-month temporary basis, ideal for nationals from other countries who can work from home and want to substitute their digital Zoom background for the real thing. The application will be on the government’s website.
Grenada, which delayed its originally-announced reopening date of July 1, announced it now plans to reopen August 1. A negative PCR test within seven days of departure is required and a swab/PCR test will be administered upon arrival. Passengers will be required to stay in quarantine (at own expense) for two to four days until a negative result is confirmed. A Health Declaration Form and contact tracing app are also required, as is insurance that covers COVID-19. Details are on Grenada’s Ministry of Health website at covid19.gov.gd/.
Turks and Caicos, which reopens July 22, will require travelers to complete a pre-screening questionnaire and provide confirmation of a negative COVID test taken within the last five days, a change from the previous three-day requirement. Health insurance, including with medevac provisions, is also required. Details are at TCI Assured and the tourist board’s website.
The Nature Island, Dominica, is reopening to international travel on August 7 and will require an advanced online health questionnaire and a negative PCR test 24 to 48 hours prior to arrival as well as screening upon arrival.
Strengthened COVID protection measures include in Jamaica, which now specifically requires a negative COVID test for travelers from high-risk locations. As of July 10, those locations are listed as Arizona, Florida, New York, and Texas. All travelers to Jamaica will now be screened upon arrival to determine if further testing or quarantine will be required. Further details are online, including the portal to apply for the required travel authorization. The Jamaican government plans to update the entry rules every two weeks or as required.
Aruba opened to U.S. travelers on July 10 but now says that travelers from 24 high-risk U.S. states listed on its website must provide certification of a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours of departure. Other travelers can take a test on arrival (at passenger expense). TravelWeek reports that Sint Maarten changed the date it reopens to travelers from the U.S. to August 1 from July 15 (the earlier date was maintained for other travelers, such as those from Canada).
To enter Antigua and Barbuda, travelers now need a negative COVID test no more than 48 hours old. This follows reports of several Americans threatening to sue the government of Antigua and Barbuda because they (erroneously) believed a COVID test on arrival was a violation of their rights and because of some Americans who refused to obey quarantine orders after testing positive for COVID-19, as reported by TravelPulse.
Early July saw more Caribbean countries reopening, as well as updates to protocols for countries already open. For example, Antigua and Barbuda updated its rules on July 2. The country requires, as of July 9, a negative COVID test within 7 days of arrival, a health declaration form, and visitors may be monitored and tested for 14 days after arrival. Saint Lucia, reopened as of June 4, also updated its entry rules. A negative COVID PCR test within seven days of travel is required as of July 9 (arrivals from “travel bubble” countries in the Caribbean are excluded from this new requirement). Details are at StLucia.org.
Also reopening, but slowly, is Barbados. Barbados will first welcome flights from Canada, as of July 12. Requirements include advance online approval via a new Embarkation/Disembarkation card, wearing face masks onboard flights, and temperature checks on arrival. Rules for advanced COVID testing depend on the epidemiological situation in the country of departure; testing on arrival is available with required quarantine until negative results are confirmed. Information is on Barbados’s website.
The Turks and Caicos plans to reopen its borders on July 22. To avoid a 14-day quarantine, international travelers must be certified by TCI Assured. This means applying for the certification through the tourist board’s website by providing proof of medical insurance, completing a health screening questionnaire, and confirming an accredited negative PCR test (originally 72 hours prior to arrival, it’s now five days). Face coverings in public are mandatory (and recommended on the islands’ beaches, including the “World’s Best Beach,” Grace Bay Beach).
The first Caribbean countries to reopen included Antigua and Barbuda (June 4), Saint Lucia (June 4), the U.S. Virgin Islands (June 4), Jamaica (June 15, advance application for the Jamaican COVID travel authorization is needed), and Saint Barth (June 22). Newly reopened as of July 1 are Bermuda; Cuba; the Dominican Republic; and the French-Dutch “Friendly Island” of Saint Martin and Sint Maarten. The Bahamas reopened July 7 with an apply-in-advance travel health card. As of July 1, Aruba will welcome visitors from many Caribbean neighbors and Europe and Canada. Visitors from the U.S. were welcomed as of July 10. The “Spice Islands” of Grenada, Carriacou, and Petite Martinique delayed their reopening, deciding that only charter, rather than commercial, flights will be allowed until further notice.
Earlier, Club Med announced reopening plans for several resorts with new health and safety protocols. Club Med Sandpiper Bay was the earliest to reopen, on June 12, with most resorts reopening later this year. Club Med Cancún and Club Med Turkoise (in Turks and Caicos) will open October 17 and September 5, respectively. Most Sandals Resorts, with their new Platinum Protocols of Cleanliness, opened June 4 where border restrictions allowed.
Canada’s border has been closed to non-Canadians and to nonessential travel since March, and that closure was extended another month to November 21. The Mexico-U.S. border closure was also extended to November 21 (although Americans can fly to Mexico).
Announced October 2, a few more exemptions are allowed into Canada. As of October 8, extended family members—including couples in long-term dating relationships—of Canadian permanent residents and Canadian citizens will be allowed entry (documentation is required to prove the relationship under some circumstances). Exemptions for compassionate reasons, such as a life-threatening illness of a close friend, are also allowed. International students are allowed into Canada again starting October 20. Pre-approvals are needed and almost everyone who enters Canada, including Canadians, is required to self-isolate for 14 days (with monitoring measures again being strengthened). Details are at Canada.ca.
There’s concern over the CDC reversing its COVID testing guidelines. In late August, the CDC said it no longer recommends that asymptomatic people exposed to the virus get a test—even though about 40% of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic. The governors of New York, California, Florida, Texas, and other states announced they plan to ignore the CDC’s advice and continue to recommend testing for everyone who has had contact with someone with COVD-19, regardless of whether they have symptoms. The governor of New York called the CDC’s decision “indefensible,” “reckless,” and not based on science. The CDC’s decision may affect where Americans can travel, and the CDC’s decision to drop the recommendation for returning travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days may cause new outbreaks in the U.S. There’s also concern that notifications for health authorities to get ready to distribute vaccine before the November presidential election will mean unproven vaccines are administered.
The closure of the U.S.-Mexico land border to nonessential travel was renewed for another month on August 13. However, some American tourists are driving across the border. The Guardian reported that residents of Sonoyta blocked access to the beach town of Puerto Peñasco, popular with weekend visitors from Arizona, and requested increased measures by the Mexican government. Additional Mexican destinations received the World Travel & Tourism Council’s Safe Travels stamp. The state of Guanajuato and popular tourist city San Miguel de Allende is new on the list, for example. Hotels there such as Live Aqua Urban Resort San Miguel de Allende can accept bookings as of July 15. All the destinations on the WTTC’s Safe Travels Stamp list are on their website, as are details about required protocols.
The Prime Minister of Canada announced August 14 yet another extension of the Canada-U.S. border closure, until at least September 21. Earlier, CBC reported lobbying by U.S. members of Congress for a phased reopening out of concern that the border closure is “creating tension and uncertainty”. Several U.S. travelers in Canada have been fined for not obeying Canada’s mandatory two-week quarantine period and for stopping to sightsee en route to Alaska (driving to a residence in Alaska is, currently, allowable). Spot checks have been increased. CTV News reports that more than 10,000 U.S. citizens and 1,500 other nationals were turned away from the Canadian border between March 22, after the border was closed, to July 12.
Only essential travel between Canada and the U.S. is allowed and, as of June 10, foreign nationals who are immediate family members of Canadians are now allowed to enter Canada (like almost all arrivals to Canada, they’re subject to a 14-day self-quarantine). The rule requiring mandatory 14-day quarantine was extended to August 31. These are the current rules on who can enter Canada.
On May 29, Canada extended its ban on cruise ships from July 1 to October 31. Previously the ban affected ships of over 500 passengers and crew, but it now affects ships over 100. Cruise ships that are members of Cruise Lines International Association canceled cruises in the U.S. until at least September 15, the Miami Herald reported.
In the U.S., the Department of State lifted the Global Level 4—Do Not Travel Health Advisory on August 6. It had been in place since March 19. This is a return to the State Department’s 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. There are a few exceptions, such as Thailand, New Zealand, French Polynesia, and Fiji which are at Level Two—Exercise Increased Caution. Taiwan and Macau are at Level One—Exercise Normal Precautions. Most countries have not yet removed border restrictions allowing Americans to enter, particularly for tourism purposes.
The New York Times reported that the U.S. government is considering 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. The draft regulation obtained by the Times does not specify how long citizens would not be allowed re-entry. Legal experts have said blocking citizens from entry into their own country is not constitutional, even if temporary, reports the Times.
In August, New York City implemented traveler checkpoints at airports and train stations, reports NBC. The checkpoints are meant as an awareness campaign to remind anyone arriving from three dozen high-risk states about the mandatory 14-day quarantine. New arrivals must complete a health form, usually on board their train or flight. This follows earlier rules that travelers to Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York coming from some parts of the U.S. must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. This applied to 34 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and to anyone coming from areas with more than 10 COVID cases per 100,000 residents over the most recent seven days.
The TSA announced a few new measures, including that passengers will now scan their own boarding pass on the electronic reader. However, there’s not yet news about whether that also applies to identity documents or news about factors like sanitizing security bins, opening passengers’ bags for inspection, or pat-downs. While a few airlines and some businesses are screening for fever, new evidence shows that this may not be effective for preventing COVID exposure, as reported by Healthline. Masks are strongly encouraged aboard planes and passengers must wear them while boarding. At the end of June, many airlines announced they will no longer block middle seats on flights, following the advice of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which cites HEPA filters and mask-wearing as combatting the lack of physical distancing. Delta Air Lines is one of the exceptions. Delta announced it would continue to block middle seats and restrict the number of passengers until September 30.
Rising cases in the U.S., both new numbers and the percentage of the population infected, caused some cities and states to slow or reverse reopening measures in mid-July. Lockdowns are being reinstated in several parts of the country, including in California. Reuters showed the differences between Canadian and U.S. boats at Niagara Falls, providing citizens on both sides of the border an apt depiction of why U.S. cases are rising so rapidly.
In Nevada, masks are now required in indoor public places. Hawaii has delayed reopening trans-Pacific travel, which had been aimed to restart as of August 1. Citing the high case numbers in the continental U.S., the Governor of Hawaii said that until September 1, travelers to Hawaii will continue to be required to quarantine on arrival. After that, it’s expected proof of a negative COVID test will be sufficient. Restrictions are increasing in some states. For example, a nightly curfew was imposed in Miami as of July 3. Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York have implemented mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from hot spots within the U.S.
Aimed first at domestic travelers, many U.S. tourist sites, such as theme parks, continue reopening. We detail whether visiting theme parks will ever be the same. Orlando continues to open, with businesses required to follow safety guidelines and encouraged to, as Orlando’s mayor described, “lead by example, hold ourselves accountable and positively reinforce those who are doing it right” via Orlando’s “Safer, Stronger, Together” program and “DoYourPartORL.” Universal CityWalk began reopening May 14 and Disney Springs began May 20. Universal Orlando Resort’s three theme parks opened to the public June 5. Disney’s Orlando parks are open, by reservation only, as follows: Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom as of July 11, and EPCOT and Hollywood Studios as of July 15. Legoland opened June 1 and the three SeaWorld Parks opened June 11. Making new safety requirements fun is an Orlando goal, with Star Wars stormtroopers at Disney Springs encouraging mask-wearing and reminding visitors to “stay in your sector.” Guests at all Orlando theme parks have their temperature checked for fever upon arrival and are required to wear masks. Parks have reduced capacity, frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, hand sanitizer available, and mechanisms to enhance physical distancing in attraction lineups. See the latest on Visit Orlando’s Healthy Traveler Information page. Disney is delaying the reopening of its two California parks, originally planned to reopen July 17.
Here’s what’s open and closed in all 50 states. For example, Las Vegas, casinos opened June 4, but many restaurants and shops in the city are still closed. Alaska, as of June 6, is the first U.S. state to require travelers to take a (free) COVID test upon arrival and self-quarantine (at their own expense) until negative test results are back. Or, passengers can show a negative COVID-test taken within 72 hours of arrival. Rhode Island is in phase two of its reopening with state parks open and indoor dining allowed. To help physical distancing, hotels like The Wayfinder Hotel have curbside check-in and keyless entry. In Lexington, Kentucky and the rest of the state, park resorts and cabins reopened June 1, and many outdoor attractions, museums, and aquariums reopened June 8. Some U.S. destinations are offering deals to attract tourists. Maine, which has a mandatory 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving from out of state, has some hotels offering pay-what-you-can rates, for example.
The U.S. also continues reopening of top tourist sites. Orlando’s theme parks are open and now Disney’s California locations are following suit. Downtown Disney will reopen July 9 and Disneyland and Disney California Adventure plan to open July 17, which is also Disneyland’s official birthday. Fort Worth, Texas has a responsible reopening plan called Y’all Get Ready so tourism businesses and visitors alike know how to stay safe. Other destinations announcing reopening include Door County, Wisconsin (known as “Cherryland USA” for its abundance of summer cherries) with special packages to encourage visitors to explore the peninsula, which has implemented a new Commitment to Cleanliness and Safety Initiative.
Mexico has a five-phase reopening plan by region. The U.S.-Mexico land border remains closed until at least August 21, though air travel is available to cities like Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. Several tourist areas are now open, including the Mexican Caribbean (as of June 8), Jalisco and the Riviera Nayarit, as well as Baja California Sur which includes Los Cabos, La Paz, and Loreto on the Sea of Cortez (all as of June 15). Several Mexican destinations have received the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Safe Travels Global Safety & Hygiene Stamp—Quintana Roo was the first destination in the Americas to receive it.
Costa Rica announced a further reopening of its borders on October 2. As of November 1, residents of all U.S. states will be eligible to enter Costa Rica (and state identification showing state residency will no longer be required). Residents of Florida, Georgia, and Texas are allowed as of October 15, and residents of several other states and countries were permitted earlier. Requirements to enter Costa Rica are detailed on the Visit Costa Rica website and include travel medical insurance, a negative PCR test within 72 hours of departure, and filling out Costa Rica’s Health Pass form. Approximately 45 countries are on Costa Rica’s green list, with travelers eligible to enter Costa Rica.
Panama reopened to international travelers as of October 12, see details on the Visit Panama website. Travelers to Panama need to provide proof of a negative COVID test no more than 48 hours old or must take a test on arrival at a cost of about $30 (the U.S. dollar is used in Panama). If travelers test positive, they are subject to a seven-day mandatory quarantine (at no cost to the traveler) before being retested. Travelers must also sign an affidavit that they will comply with all COVID measures. Face masks are required in public in Panama, and measures to facilitate safer travel—such as hand sanitizing stations and contactless restaurant ordering and payment—are being implemented throughout the country.
Belize, which had planned to reopen August 15, delayed its reopening to October 1. Updated information is posted at TravelBelize.org. To enhance the country’s health and safety standards, Belize implemented the Belize Health App and a nine-point Tourism Gold Standard program To enter Belize, COVID protocols include registration on the health app and, if possible, a negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel; testing on arrival is available for those unable to get a test in advance at a cost of $50 US. A positive test means 14 days quarantine at passenger expense. The health app requires a daily check-in and reporting of symptoms. International travelers are restricted to approved hotels and transportation.
Colombia reopened to international flights on September 21 and many protection measures in Bogota were lifted September 21; however, the mayor warned that new outbreaks are inevitable. Guatemala reopened its land, sea, and air borders as of September 18 and began lifting restrictions on domestic travel. El Salvador reopened to international flights as of September 19; a negative PCR test is required for all travelers.
Cases in South America continue to climb with Argentina, Colombia, and Peru all in the top 10 of most-affected countries.
On October 5 Peru restarted international flights from neighboring countries from as far south as Uruguay and as far north as Panama. Just beginning phase four of its reopening, bars and casinos remain closed in Peru but restaurants and shops are open with reduced capacity. Machu Picchu, rumored to reopen to local visitors on October 15, does not yet have an official reopening date. However, the site was opened for a single Japanese tourist who had been waiting for seven months to see the ruins but wasn’t able to leave the country nor visit the closed UNESCO site because of pandemic restrictions.
In mid-September, Brazil’s tourism agency said that without a COVID vaccine, large events like Carnival could not take place and canceled the February 2021 Carnival parade in Rio. The parade has taken place annually for 100 years.
The White House’s travel ban for Brazil began at midnight on May 27. People are no longer able to enter the U.S. if they have been in Brazil during the preceding 14 days. The restriction does not apply to U.S. citizens or green card holders, though it will be more difficult for them to get home as flights are usually curtailed in response to these types of bans. The Washington Post describes how flights between the two countries were already limited because of travel restrictions Brazil imposed in March against all foreigners. At the time, the United States had about four times as many COVID cases as Brazil and almost three times as many cases per capita. CTV News points out that the U.S. has not issued a travel ban against Russia, the country with the third-highest reported cases.
We’ve integrated other key events from earlier this spring into the information below.
The Evolving Spread of COVID-19
Reports of a rapid spread of COVID-19 outside of Asia began late in the week of February 17. When March began, cases were climbing in China, Italy, Iran, and South Korea. By mid-March, Western Europe and the U.S. had high numbers, and COVID was in 125 countries. Europe became the epicenter of the disease, but by the end of March it had shifted to the U.S.
For more on what’s happening in Europe, check out
Coronavirus Outbreak: Should You Cancel Your Trip to Europe?
Read more about U.S. travel below and in our
Coronavirus Outbreak: Should You Change or Cancel U.S. Travel Plans?
Many experts say that cases of COVID-19 have been circulating within many countries long before confirmed cases started to be counted. A new study indicates that a man in France may have had COVID-19 in late December 2019, Dr. William Spangler, Global Medical Director with AIG Travel, says, “There could be large segments of the population who contract it and never know it.” It’s assumed that the total number of cases is much higher than what’s being reported because many people experience mild or no symptoms and because most countries are not able to test everyone with symptoms. This means that the mortality rate is also unknown, as explained in this Economist article. Case numbers rose dramatically throughout March and even more so in April. Dr. Faheem Younus, Chief of Infectious Diseases at the University of Maryland, says it took 66 days for the 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 less than 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 and by May 20 were at five million.
In March, most countries started to pay a lot more attention to COVID-19, while in China the disease was easing. On March 10, China reported that the country no longer needs 11 of its 14 new temporary COVID-19 hospitals as new domestic cases dropped. However, occasional domestic cases continued to be confirmed and a second wave of cases, brought in by travelers to China, then began. Second waves hit several of the earliest affected countries, including South Korea, Singapore, and Japan, as the BBC reported on March 18.
The United States became the third most-affected country in the world on March 23, rising from the sixth most affected as of March 20. March 26 saw the U.S. case count not only surpass that of Italy but also of China. A White House official said on March 30, “If we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities.” New York, as CNN explains, is the U.S. epicenter. On April 11, the state of New York alone surpassed the COVID-19 case count of Spain. The U.S. crossed the 10,000 COVID-19 deaths threshold on April 6 and on April 11 became the country with the highest number of COVID-19 deaths. At the beginning of March, the U.S. had about 100 confirmed cases. Two separate studies tracing the virus genome show that COVID cases in the United States originated not from travelers from China but Europe. The first U.S. case was reported on January 13, well before the White House’s January 31 China travel ban and the March 11 Europe travel ban.
Countries and territories with their first COVID cases in April included Yemen, Sao Tome, and Principe, South Sudan, the disputed territory of Western Sahara, the Falkland Islands, and the French archipelago Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which is off the coast of Newfoundland.
May brought the easing of COVID cases in Europe, although a German study said actual COVID cases there are likely 10 times higher than confirmed cases, and May 10 brought reports that Germany’s case numbers are rising again. Cases in other parts of the world continue climbing, especially in Russia, India, and Brazil. Many countries are beginning to lift their restrictions. Some citizens are protesting that they want additional freedoms while others fear their governments are putting the economy ahead of their health, often in the same jurisdiction.
What Is This New Virus?
In early January 2020, China and the WHO confirmed the identification of a new virus. It stems from several cases of pneumonia identified in Wuhan, a city in the Chinese province of Hubei, on December 31, 2019. The new illness initially had the temporary name 2019-nCoV. On February 11, 2020, the WHO officially named the illness COVID19, pronounced “co-vid 19.” It’s short for coronavirus disease, with the “19” designating 2019, the year it was first identified. The official name of the virus itself is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2.
A Coronavirus—What’s That?
The 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, like a sore throat, coughing, and a runny nose. Sometimes coronaviruses can cause more severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, illnesses of the lower respiratory system like bronchitis and pneumonia, and sometimes death. Other coronaviruses include the common cold, as well as 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.
Cold and flu viruses generally mutate frequently, which is why we keep getting sick from them and why the flu vaccine changes every year. We don’t yet know if people who recover from COVID-19 will have lifelong immunity to it, or if the virus will change.
There was initial hope that the virus would not survive in warm weather and therefore cases would ease off as the northern hemisphere entered summer, but outbreaks in warm countries like Singapore proved that wrong. As Spangler says, “unfortunately, it does not appear this particular virus is susceptible to heat and humidity.” For more detail see Is It Safe to Go to the Beach Right Now?
Coronaviruses can infect both humans and animals. Scientists don’t yet know the origin of SARS-CoV-2. When a virus jumps from an animal to a human, or vice versa, the virus can change rapidly and even become a new virus.
Scientists pay close attention to new viruses because they don’t know how they’ll behave and how dangerous they might be. For example, a virus that’s contagious only when the infected person is clearly sick and that causes only minor symptoms isn’t a big concern. But a virus that transmits rapidly, especially before an infected person even realizes they’re sick, is more dangerous, as is one that causes severe symptoms. Viruses that are transmitted by direct contact, like touching mucus membranes or bodily fluids, are easier to control than smaller viruses (like measles and chickenpox) that are transmitted through the air by floating on dust particles.
From a Global Health Emergency to a Pandemic
On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health emergency. On March 11, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. However, Tedros accompanied that declaration with several important statements:
- “…we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.”
- “Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
- “Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
Linked are Tedros’ statements from March 2, when he said, “We are in unchartered [sic] territory. We have never before seen a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but which can also be contained with the right measures. If this was an influenza epidemic, we would have expected to see widespread community transmission across the globe by now, and efforts to slow it down or contain it would not be feasible.”
On March 16, Tedros noted that many countries have implemented decisions to enhance social distancing, for example by canceling events and closing schools. However, he said there is not “an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing” and that these are needed to “extinguish this pandemic.” He added “We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”
He also reminded that “all countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights” and called for all sectors of society to work together to mitigate the pandemic’s social and economic consequences.
World Leaders’ Reactions and the WHO’s Advice
Leaders around the world first tried to protect their own countries by closing borders and restricting movement. 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.
The WHO said July 28 that the world is still in the first wave of the pandemic, and warned against thinking of COVID as a virus that behaves in seasonal waves, as the flu does. “It’s going to be one big wave. It’s going to go up and down a bit. The best thing is to flatten it and turn it into just something lapping at your feet,” said the WHO’s Dr. Margaret Harris. The pandemic has many side effects as well, for example, the United Nations said 10,000 children are dying every month because of COVID-related hunger, with 550,000 children affected by “wasting” malnutrition, the CBC reported. In early August, the United Nations reported that more than a billion students in 160 countries around the world have missed school due to COVID-19. It’s estimated that over 23 million students are at risk of not having access to school or of dropping out this year, which could lead to “a generational catastrophe.”
International meetings addressing health and the economy continue. For example, on May 4 a global alliance of world leaders pledged to raise $8 billion to research vaccines and therapeutics and distribute them equitably once developed. The U.S. did not attend the virtual meeting.
The head of the United Nations drew attention to the rise in anti-foreigner hate and xenophobia around the world. On May 8, the UN Security Council’s vote for a worldwide cessation of conflict zone hostilities was prevented by the U.S., reportedly because the resolution mentioned the World Health Organization, reports Al Jazeera. CNN reports that international health experts warn that diseases like HIV/AIDS, measles, tuberculosis, and malaria could surge because of a shift in health resources toward COVID-19.
In his April 1 remarks, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged governments to put social welfare measures in place to protect vulnerable people. He commended India for providing free food rations for 800 million citizens and free cooking gas for 80 million households. Tedros drew attention to the needs of developing countries and echoed the call from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to provide debt relief. The WHO, with UNICEF and the International Federation of the Red Cross, is releasing new guidance for handwashing aimed at countries where access to clean water is limited.
Authoritarian governments and police forces are exerting their influence. The Guardian reports that a 13-year-old boy in Nairobi, Kenya was shot dead on his balcony by police enforcing curfew. Global News describes how the word “coronavirus” is banned by the Turkmenistan government and that people who say it or wear face masks are being arrested. The BBC reports that the Hungarian parliament passed a bill that gives the government the ability to rule by decree without any time limits. The law also allows significant jail sentences for people deemed to be spreading rumors or breaking quarantine. Journalists are alarmed by the government-sponsored “hate campaign” against independent news.
The EU and Germany both called attention to the new Hungarian situation and of the importance of the rule of law, human rights, democracy, and an independent and free media. The Guardian also reports on concern about how the coronavirus is affecting European solidarity. A former Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta, said, “If everyone took the strategy of ‘Italy first,’ ‘Belgium first’ or ‘Germany first,’ we will all sink together.” See more on the situation in Europe in Coronavirus Outbreak: Should You Cancel a Trip to Europe?
On March 31, Donald Trump warned that “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks” with modeling showing that between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die of COVID-19. However, Politico reports that the White House has decided against allowing new Obamacare enrollments for uninsured Americans. On April 22, Donald Trump issued a 60-day suspension on green cards and guest worker programs, as detailed by Deutsche Welle.
Also on April 22, the UN secretary general warned that COVID-19 “is a public health emergency that is fast becoming a human rights crisis.” He warned about the rise in authoritarian governments, hate speech, domestic abuse, and the disproportionate effect of the virus on refugees and migrants. World leaders continue to provide mechanisms to try to ease the economic, social, and health effects of COVID-19. The World Food Program warned that 300,000 people daily could starve to death over the next three months and that there could be famine in more than 30 countries.
In the U.S., the CDC lifted its March 28 travel advisories that recommended no nonessential travel to the states of New York, New Jersey, and or Connecticut for 14 days. The advisory has been replaced by the CDC’s general advice about traveling within the U.S. On April 18, Canada and the U.S. agreed to extend their border closure for another 30 days.
On April 16, the White House issued guidelines for reopening the economy. This resulted in, for example, the opening of Florida beaches with reports that they were immediately crowded. USA Today describes some of the new measures. On April 13, Donald Trump claimed that he has “total” authority to order states to reopen. As NPR reported, it is individual state governors, not the U.S. president, that have these powers. Throughout the week, arguments with governors and constitutional experts followed, with Trump tweeting that “a good old-fashioned mutiny every now and then is…exciting and invigorating.” As reported by NBC, some saw tweets to “liberate” Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota, and describing the 2nd amendment as “under siege,” as a call to arms.
Several international meetings took place in April, including G7 leaders, G20 health ministers, and of the 24 member countries of the Alliance for Multilateralism. Relying on science, supporting the WHO, and the importance of international cooperation were prominent agenda items. However, the planned April 19 statement by G20 health ministers about cooperating to prevent future pandemics and strengthening the WHO’s mandate was not released because the U.S. would not agree to it, as reported by The Guardian. On April 17, the Ministerial Coordination Group on COVID-19 put out a statement endorsing global cooperation to mitigate disruptions to the economy, trade, and travel. Amongst many other things, signing countries agreed to work to extend visas for non-nationals unable to exit countries because of COVID-19 travel restrictions and to offer them essential health care. Thirteen countries signed the statement: Brazil, Canada, France Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, South Korea, Singapore, Turkey, and the U.K.
Leaders of the G7 met April 16 and, as described by the Globe & Mail, “confronted Donald Trump” about cutting funding to the WHO. The other leaders expressed support for the WHO and the importance of fighting the pandemic through shared information and coordinated science. Supporting funding of the WHO was also discussed at the April 16 meeting of the Alliance for Multilateralism. The goal of the informal network of foreign affairs ministers, founded by France and Germany, is “to renew the global commitment to stabilize the rules-based international order, uphold its principles and adapt it, where necessary.” The Alliance’s April 16 joint statement begins with “The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for multilateralism” and calls for global cooperation and solidarity. It has 24 signatories from Europe, Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East, North, Central, and South America. The United States has not yet participated.
In his April 8 remarks, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, gave an overview of the first 100 days of the COVID-19 crisis. This included that the WHO notified world leaders of the outbreak on January 5 and issued guidance on how to detect, test, and manage cases on January 10. In his April 10 remarks, Tedros outlined six factors for countries to consider in deciding when to start lifting physical distancing and other lockdown conditions. He raised concerns about countries where more than ten percent of health care workers are infected and the need for them to have access to personal protective equipment. He described the UN’s new Supply Chain Task Force to help with procurement and distribution where it’s most needed.
Tedros also drew attention to Africa where the virus is now spreading in rural areas which already lack health capacity. He reported that, after 52 days without any new Ebola cases, an Ebola diagnosis was confirmed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which also has 235 COVID-19 cases. As of April 24, Africa has more than 27,600 coronavirus cases in 52 countries. Only two African countries—Comoros and Lesotho—have not yet confirmed any COVID-19 cases.
EU finance ministers reached an agreement on April 9 for a financial rescue package worth 500 billion euros. G20 leaders met on March 26 to discuss working together to address the effects of COVID-19 but no specific actions were shared with the media. This followed a March 25 G7 foreign ministers discussion where they were unable to issue a planned joint statement because the U.S. insisted on calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus” and the other G7 ministers refused, as reported by the CBC.
On April 5, the head of the United Nations called for governments to enact measures to protect abused women and children who must self-isolate at home with their abusers.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, reminded G20 leaders that to address COVID-19, “No country can fight alone; we can only fight together.” In his March 27 public remarks, he said “The chronic global shortage of personal protective equipment is now one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives,” adding that “when health workers are at risk, we’re all at risk.” He announced next steps in the WHO’s SOLIDARITY clinical trial and requested that countries “refrain from using therapeutics that have not been demonstrated to be effective” against COVID-19, saying “We must follow the evidence. There are no short cuts.”
Tedros said the world “squandered the first window of opportunity” to deal with COVID-19 and must “do everything to suppress and control this virus” and not squander the second opportunity. In his March 25 remarks, he said encouraging people to stay in their homes is slowing the spread of COVID-19, but that it will not extinguish it. He called on countries that have implemented lockdowns to use the time to enhance measures so that the virus does not simply resurge when lockdowns are lifted. He outlined six key actions, including refocusing “the whole of government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.”
Tedros echoed the March 23 call of the United Nations’ Secretary-General for a ceasefire of all armed conflicts, stating “We are all facing a common threat, and the only way to defeat it is by coming together as one humanity because we are one human race.” Tedros continued to press for more testing, isolating, tracing, and quarantining. He discussed the rising number of COVID-19 infections amongst medical staff and recommended that limited protective equipment be prioritized for use by medical teams. He also encouraged countries to work together in the WHO’s SOLIDARITY clinical trial study, saying it will bring faster and more effective results than many smaller observational studies. For individuals, Tedros reminded us that physical distancing does not mean social distancing. He encouraged everyone to reach out to others by phone or electronic means, especially to older people and those who live alone.
In his remarks on March 18, Tedros again pressed countries to enhance COVID-19 measures beyond physical distancing (like canceling events and large group gatherings). Without “isolating, testing, and treating every suspected case” and then tracing contacts of anyone diagnosed, he said transmission chains will continue at low levels and then surge again once physical distancing restrictions are lifted. On March 13, the head of the WHO expressed relief that more and more countries are now acting on the WHO’s advice but repeated that there is much more to be done.
The WHO’s advice to the general public, last updated on March 18, remains taking the usual precautions: wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, practice respiratory hygiene, practice physical distancing, and maintain at least a three-foot distance from people. People who show even mild symptoms, like a headache or runny nose, should stay home. Those with more serious symptoms (like a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing) should seek medical care but call for instructions before visiting a medical provider in person. We explain the details of this below.
In a statement on March 16, the WHO advised on how to care for a COVID patient who is quarantined at home to minimize the chance the virus is spread to other family members (a key way COVID-19 spread in China). New guidance is also available for how to care for older people, pregnant women, and children.
The WHO also provides advice on international mass gatherings, defined as events where the number of participants could drain the destination’s health system. The WHO has ruled out blanket cancellations but has provided advice on how assessments should be made including that multiple stakeholders, particularly public health authorities, be involved.
With respect to travel bans, the WHO reiterates that “evidence shows that restricting the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies is ineffective in most situations and may divert resources from other interventions.” The organization says some short-term restrictions, carefully weighed against risk, may be justified at the beginning of an outbreak to allow countries to implement preparedness measures and identifies circumstances where the temporary restriction of movement may be useful “such as in settings with few international connections and limited response capacities.”
In April, bidding wars by countries and institutions for increasingly hard-to-find personal protective equipment was jacking up prices and putting health care workers at risk. Dubbed “mask wars,” blame was focused on the U.S. For example, the U.S. attempted to limit exports of N95 masks made by 3M to Canada and Latin America. Canadian officials made statements about how the pulp used to make N95 masks comes from British Columbia and about the number of Canadian medical staff who work in Detroit hospitals. The U.S. was accused of interfering with European mask purchase agreements, including allegedly redirecting to the U.S. a shipment of 200,000 masks from Bangkok bound for Germany. German officials dubbed it an “act of modern piracy” and called the “behavior of the U.S. president…inhumane and unacceptable” and insisted that “the U.S. comply with international rules.” Barbados accused the U.S. of blocking the shipment of 20 donated ventilators. Experts say this kind of individualism will likely increase virus transmission and put everyone at greater risk.
On April 3, the CDC advised Americans to wear face coverings in public to help prevent people without symptoms from inadvertently spreading COVID-19. The CDC provided instructions for making them. Medical experts warned about a false sense of security with a mask, saying that staying home and, when out, keeping physical distance from others is still the most effective way to prevent COVID transmission. People can also easily infect themselves by not using masks properly (we provide more details toward the end of this article). Officials also reminded of the shortage of masks for medical professionals and that everyone is less safe if health care workers become sick.
Cancelations, Domestic Restrictions, and Lockdowns
In most countries, the initial response to COVID-19 was to cancel major events like international conferences and to have sports matches played without audiences in stadiums. Restrictions grew in most countries, first in Asia and then in Europe and elsewhere. Most events around the world are now canceled or postponed. The decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was made on March 24. The Olympics are now scheduled for July 23 to August 8, 2021, and the Paralympics for August 24 to September 5, 2021, though in late May 2020 officials speculated that the Games may not be able to go ahead without a vaccine, and may be canceled altogether.
More and more countries advised their citizens to avoid gathering in restaurants and bars, then closed nonessential businesses, and then told people to stay in their homes as much as possible under guidelines to self-isolate and shelter in place. Several countries enacted official lockdowns, some issuing severe penalties for violations. Public life around the world shut down, relatively easy for people with their own apartments or houses, but sometimes impossible for people with low incomes and homeless people.
The aim is to prevent the most at-risk populations from contracting the disease and not overwhelming health care systems. Known as “flattening the curve,” this NPR article explains what it means and why staying home and physical distancing can save lives. Individual action is critical in ensuring success and we all must take on responsibility in helping prevent those more vulnerable from getting sick.
New guidelines for the United States, called “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” were implemented March 16 and later changed to “30 Days to Slow the Spread.” As USA Today describes, they include advice to “limit discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits,” avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and to avoid sitting in restaurants and bars.
The Guardian said March 25 that approximately 20% of the world is living in lockdown conditions. On April 5, the BBC reported it at 25% and other outlets said that half the world’s population faces movement restrictions. Generally, people are allowed out of their homes for essential purchases and, in most countries, to exercise. Several countries have begun warning citizens that COVID-19 restrictions could last for six months or longer.
In mid-March, officials in many countries expressed shock at the number of people, particularly young people, who were ignoring advice to maintain physical distance and not attend events of any kind, including going to bars and restaurants. There was grave concern about how much disease was spread because of these activities. News outlets report comments from spring breakers in Florida saying they didn’t care if they contracted COVID-19, seemingly unaware that young people can also have serious symptoms and of the significant role they would then have in spreading the disease and putting health care systems in jeopardy. A French minister said, “There are people who think they are modern-day heroes by breaking the rules while they are in fact idiots.”
In other parts of the world, South Korea monitors those in quarantine with electronic wristbands. After reports of recovered South Korean patients testing positive again for COVID-19, the WHO began a study on April 11 to find out why. CNN reported that Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, was on the verge of collapse with bodies left in the street. In Peru, anyone who spreads fake coronavirus news could be arrested. 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. In the United States, at least 90% of the population was under some kind of lockdown; Al Jazeera describes the restrictions in each U.S. state in mid-April.
Travel Bans and Restrictions
Travel restrictions began in Wuhan in January and grew to almost every other country in March. Echoing the WHO, some infectious disease specialists say that not all of the travel bans are medically necessary but were put in place for political reasons. To non-experts, some of the decisions may sound like they make sense, but evidence-based scientific advice suggests otherwise. For example, Steve Hoffman, a professor of global health at York University, describes 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 and about whether they may have been exposed to illness. Many people are so desperate to get to their destination that they board flights knowing they have symptoms. Axios describes how about 40,000 people flew to the U.S. on direct flights from China after the China-U.S. travel ban was in place, perhaps giving a false sense of security and delaying other actions that may have saved more lives.
Some decisions may even be driven by fear and xenophobia. Certainly, statements calling the virus “Chinese” or “foreign” are xenophobic and can make controlling COVID-19 and the consequences of it more difficult. Asians around the world report increased harassment and discrimination because of the virus. Public health experts reiterate that bans against travel and trade are ineffective, not scientifically or economically warranted, and can cause more harm than good. However, encouraging individuals to make decisions to avoid travel or self-isolate can help slow the spread of disease, flatten the curve, and reduce pressures on health care systems.
In the United States, travel restrictions strengthened during February and March. The CDC and the State Department use different warning scales and issued differing advice. As of March 19, the State Department’s warning is at “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” the highest level. It advises Americans to “arrange for immediate return to the United States unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” This follows the State Department’s March 11 Level 3: Reconsider All Travel advisory. The CDC issued level 3 “warnings” to avoid nonessential travel to a list of countries that changed frequently. On March 11, a global outbreak was noted with a level 2 alert, but later changed to level 3, the highest, meaning “avoid all nonessential travel.”
The U.S. began implementing new border rules on February 2, prohibiting foreign nationals who had visited China in the previous 14 days from entry and subjecting U.S. citizens traveling from there to health screenings and, potentially, restrictions on their movements for 14 days. A ban on travelers from Iran was added on February 29. Advice for travelers from other high-incidence countries, including all countries with a level-3 warning, includes that they should self-isolate for 14 days. On March 11, Donald Trump announced that all travel from Europe is suspended for 30 days as of midnight March 13. Originally the U.K. and Ireland were exempt from this ban, but on March 14, the ban was revised to include them and clarifications issued about who the ban did and did not apply to.
On March 13, the United States declared a state of emergency. On March 28, the CDC issued travel advisories within the United States, recommending no nonessential travel to New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut for 14 days. That restriction has been lifted, but the CDC provides advice about travel within the U.S. Nonessential travel across the U.S.-Mexico border was barred as of March 21. The Guardian reported that construction of the southern border wall would be increased.
The U.S.-Canada border closed to all but essential travel as of March 21 and the closure was extended until at least June 21. Nationals of each country can return home and commercial goods are still allowed through. Canada was following the WHO’s advice but on March 16, the prime minister announced new restrictions on who can enter the country. Canada’s advisory recommending that Canadians not travel abroad at all was released March 13 and on March 14, Canada advised Canadians who are abroad to return home. Anyone coming into Canada, regardless of where from and regardless of whether they have symptoms, must self-isolate for 14 days and provide border officials with a quarantine plan.
On March 26, the Canadian prime minister confirmed rumors that the White House discussed putting troops near the U.S.-Canada border. Canadian officials were not supportive, with Justin Trudeau saying “Canada and the United States have the longest un-militarized border in the world and it is very much in both of our interests for it to remain that way.” At the time, Canada had about 4,000 cases while the U.S. had about 81,000. On March 31, the CBC reported that a U.S. Department of Defense official said, “As of last night, that is no longer under consideration.” The Nation reported on a leaked Customs and Border Protection memo requesting $145 million in funding to monitor the activities of Canadians.
Most countries screen arrivals at their borders, and some require testing on arrival. Self-isolation or quarantine for 14 days is encouraged and often mandatory. Al Jazeera has a list of border restrictions.
Air Travel Restrictions
Airlines began canceling flights and adjusting schedules in January in response to government bans and because of reduced customer demand. Many airlines discontinued international flights, reduced domestic flights, and some are temporarily shutting down operations. Some countries grounded all international flights. Passengers around the world reported showing up for flights at airports only to find they’ve been canceled, with the pattern repeating with subsequent flights.
Air travel is starting up again, though many airlines are laying off staff and are worried about their ability to stay in business. Airlines have enhanced cleaning protocols, for example with electrostatic spraying of disinfectant nightly and sometimes between flights. Many require that both crew and passengers wear masks and are attempting to seat passengers to allow for more physical distancing.
In May, however, some air passengers posted photos of packed planes on social media, complaining that airlines misled them about their new policies. For example, United Airlines posted “we’re automatically blocking middle seats to give you enough space on board,” which customers took to mean that it would not be physically possible to sit in middle seats. The airline’s website, however, detailed that while United blocked the ability to book middle seats, those seats could still be assigned to passengers if needed, for example when flights are consolidated. Since airlines have cut or reduced flights to secondary airports (such as Oakland, in favor of San Francisco), flights that were half-empty a week ago are now full.
Some countries’ skies remain closed. On April 27, Argentina announced that tickets for commercial flights to, from, or within the country cannot be sold until September 1. Other countries are still flying and there are signs of what air travel in the COVID world could look like. On April 15, with a Dubai-Tunis flight, Emirates began testing passengers for COVID-19 prior to boarding via a 10-minute blood test. Emirates plans to expand testing, particularly for countries that require COVID testing certificates. Passengers on flights departing from or arriving at Canadian airports must demonstrate they have a non-medical face covering and wear it when physical distancing is not possible. Anyone entering Canada must provide a written quarantine plan when they arrive at the border. In the U.K., the training of dogs to sniff out COVID at airports is underway, as some dogs can already detect malaria and cancer. Arrivals in Hong Kong must undergo a COVID test and await the results, provide a quarantine plan, and get set up with a monitoring bracelet and app to record their temperature, a process that takes about eight hours. As travel restarts again, The Guardian describes how airfares might rise by 50% if physical distancing rules remain in force.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released a Roadmap for Restarting Aviation providing advice for both airports and airlines. For now, there is no consistency of rules or policies across countries or even within them. The air travel situation remains fluid and travelers should check with their airline or travel agent for the latest news. Flexibility to postpone travel with change fees waived is still possible as airlines try to reignite business. Find more information at:
- American Airlines Travel Alerts
- Delta Air Lines Current Advisories
- United Airlines Important Notices
Cruise Ship Restrictions
Cruise ship travel has been significantly disrupted. Rerouting of itineraries began in January, as did enhanced health checks and limitations on who can board, sometimes based on travel history and sometimes just based on passport regardless of the person’s country of residence. In March, many cruise lines suspended operations for at least a few weeks though several lines are still working to get passengers and crew home from ships that are stranded at sea and not allowed to dock. Cruise Critic is monitoring the situation and includes links to all cruise lines’ latest COVID-19 updates and well as information on port closures.
Many countries, including Canada and the United States, recommend citizens avoid cruise ship travel during the pandemic. Many countries closed their ports to cruise ships completely. The CDC extended its No Sail Order, likely until mid-July 24. On March 13, Canada deferred the start of cruise ship season from April 2 to July 1, applying to all ships with more than 500 aboard. All cruise ships, regardless of size, are prohibited from Canada’s fragile northern regions for the 2020 season. On May 12, the province of British Columbia announced that cruise ships may stop for supplies and fuel, but passengers will not be allowed to disembark during summer 2020. This means the itineraries of many Alaskan cruises are changing, and some cruise lines forgoing the Alaska season entirely for 2020.
In April, dozens of cruise ships were stranded at sea and are trying to dock to allow their passengers and crew, some of whom were sick, to return home. For example, at least eight ships, with crew but no passengers, were ordered to leave Australian waters in early April, reports The Guardian. Two Holland America ships, finally allowed through the Panama Canal on March 29, then faced delays off Florida. The Zaandam’s original March 7 to 21 itinerary was Argentina to Chile, but no one was allowed off after March 14. Sister ship the Rotterdam joined the Zaandam on March 26 near Panama to separate sick and healthy passengers. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis initially did not allow the ships to dock, first saying he did not want passengers “dumped” in Florida and then said only Floridians could disembark. This prompted a barrage of complaints on social media, particularly from Canadians, including reminders of the grounding of flights on 9/11 and how the town of Gander, Newfoundland took in double its population when 38 planes bound for the U.S. needed a place to land urgently. Most passengers disembarked April 3 and flew to U.S. destinations and to Europe, New Zealand, and Canada via charter flights arranged by Carnival Corporation.
Cruise ship crews are having a more difficult time. On May 3, CBC reported information from the U.S. Coast Guard that 122 cruise ships with 80,000 crew members are stuck in U.S. waters, their crews not allowed to disembark until strict CDC requirements are met, including charter flights home. The Guardian says that at least 100,000 crew are living in close quarters on cruise ships around the world, either on ships that aren’t allowed to dock in port, in countries which they can’t fly out of, or they’re from countries that have closed their borders even to citizens. Some are ill or quarantined and at least 17 have died. There are reports that some are no longer being paid and that there are limited means to send and receive information. However, some cruise lines, like MSC Cruises, are allowing crew to use larger passenger cabins, providing free internet, and securing and paying for flights home.
Norwegian is the first cruise line to announce how they’ll operate going forward. They’ll have a public health officer onboard to oversee health practices, including fogging with electrostatic disinfectant and passenger temperature checks prior to all public activities, including meals. Buffets and self-serve drinks are no longer allowed. Itineraries will vary depending on ports’ rules and protocols.
As for the future of the cruise industry, Travelweek interviewed Vanessa Lee, President of Cruise Strategies, in April. She said that “certain areas of the world will not lend themselves to cruising for some time and others will be more logical recipients for cruise guests.” She explained that itineraries will be changed to accommodate and predicts “shorter, closer to home cruises” and river cruises as likely preferences, as will be “visits to private islands where the cruise companies can manage their own guest experience onshore as well as at sea.” We outline What Needs to Change Before You Go on a Cruise Again.
Treatments, Vaccines, and Hope for the Future
As of early October, 167 (up from 156 the previous week) countries have signed on to the WHO’s COVAX vaccine development and distribution agreement, with more joining daily. They include 27 EU member states, Norway, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, and Canada, but not the U.S., Russia, or China. These countries will first receive enough vaccine for the most vulnerable 3% of their populations, such as health care workers and those who live in care homes. The rationale is that pooling money together funds more vaccine candidates, allowing the world to more quickly find, manufacture, and then distribute a safe and effective vaccine. Distributing it first to high-risk people around the world will help protect health care systems and strengthen economies more quickly, essential given the extent individual countries and the global economy rely on international trade and travel.
Research and clinical trials around the world are underway. Despite promises, it is unlikely that a safe and effective vaccine will be available to distribute to the world prior to mid-2021.
False reports circulate daily about new “miracle cures” for COVID-19, often about specific drugs that are effective for other diseases, but which can harm or kill people who don’t have those illnesses. Drug shortages are affecting the lives of people with those other illnesses. Reports of new tests and treatments come almost daily, but often before they’ve been studied thoroughly enough. What seems like good news one week turns out to be problematic the next.
On March 18, the head of the WHO described a new study to collect data on the effectiveness of the variety of treatments around the world, naming it the SOLIDARITY trial (a reminder to world leaders that the only way to combat COVID-19 is to work together).
Perhaps a New Normal?
COVID-19 may become a new normal. In the short-term at least, the new normal means, at a minimum, physical distancing, enhanced cleanliness, and vigilance in monitoring ourselves for symptoms, even the most mild. While travel is starting up again and people want to return to normal life, staying six feet from others and minimizing social interactions will save lives.
In the long term, the new normal might mean COVID-19 becomes a new disease we always have to watch out for. The Atlantic reports that “‘cold and flu season’ could become ‘cold and flu and COVID-19 season’” and describes the situation according to Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiology professor from Harvard. He predicts that “some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected” with COVID-19 over the next year, but “many will have mild disease or may be asymptomatic.”
COVID-19, like the flu, is a significant health risk to the elderly, people with pre-existing illnesses, and to countries with underfunded health care systems and where many citizens live with low incomes. COVID-19 cases are pressuring the health care systems of all countries, and more so during flu season. While health care workers are trained to take extra precautions, they are also at greater risk of getting sick from the virus as well as from burnout.
Also serious is the economic risk of COVID-19. Not being able to go to work is having significant financial effects on individuals without paid sick leave and on businesses without workers. Economies around the world were affected as commerce and production slowed almost to a standstill. Small businesses are at particular risk. Governments are implementing monetary and fiscal stimuli to protect citizens and businesses and ward off the worst of the recession (and perhaps depression) that is expected.
How Does COVID-19 Compare to Other Respiratory Diseases?
Spangler says that it’s important to put COVID-19 in the context of other diseases. SARS had a mortality rate of 9.6% and MERS’ rate is 34% (the disease is still active, the most recent case was reported on February 18, 2020, in Qatar). 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. The CDC provides these estimates for April 2009 to April 2010 period:
- 8 million H1N1 cases (range 43.3-89.3 million)
- 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719)
- 12,469 deaths (range: 8,868-18,306) (fatality rate 0.02%); note that as of April 7, 2020, the U.S. had more COVID-19-related deaths than H1N1-related deaths.
- 151,700 to 575,500 H1N1 deaths, 80% of which were in people younger than age 65.
Consider annual flu statistics too. The CDC says that during the current 2019-2020 flu season (October 1, 2009 to present, as of April 4, 2020):
- 39 million to 56 million annual flu cases
- 24,000 to 62,000 deaths (fatality rate 0.06-0.11%)
During flu season, every week or so, the number of annual flu cases in the U.S. climbed by a million or two and the number of deaths by one or two thousand. Many Americans aren’t getting a flu shot despite the number of deaths from flu. Last year, 62.6% of U.S. kids got a flu shot while only 45.3% of adults did. And many people who have the flu—14%—don’t have symptoms, but can spread the flu virus.
In comparing how contagious the new coronavirus is, Spangler says the average person with COVID-19 “can transmit it to 2.00 or 2.5, even, [other] people,” while the annual flu spreads to about 1.0 or 1.2 people.
COVID-19 is new and there’s still a lot we don’t know about it. There are millions more cases of H1N1 and annual flu. COVID-19’s fatality rate is higher than H1N1 and annual flu, but much lower than SARS and MERS and some other flus. SARS got a lot of worldwide attention and COVID-19 has been top of the daily news. Everyone needs to take precautions to stop the spread of the disease, particularly to prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed. But is there a reason to panic more over COVID-19 than we did over H1N1 or seasonal flu or even SARS? Take the advice of governments seriously, but panic behaviors are making the situation worse. Consider this article by infectious disease specialist Dr. Paul Sax who explains What Does (and Doesn’t) Scare Me About the Coronavirus from the U.S. perspective. Visual Capitalist put COVID-19 in the context of other infectious diseases throughout history: Visualizing the History of Pandemics shows that HIV/AIDS, which has killed 25 to 25 million people, is by far the modern world’s worst pandemic.
If Bans and Restrictions Don’t Affect Me, Should I Still Travel?
Most countries are advising their citizens to reconsider or avoid nonessential international travel. Minimizing contact with other people as much as possible is still essential to slow the spread of COVID-19. We all need to practice the WHO’s advice of physical distancing, washing hands, and avoiding touching faces (see below).
During the pandemic, check the website of the public health authority of the destination you plan to visit to see their latest advice, including for entry requirements and how strained their health care system is. Travelers should still assume that new restrictions and bans could arise at any time, that flights will be canceled with little to no warning, and that their travel history will be scrutinized. Travelers may be asked to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, including to their home country. Some are implementing mandatory quarantine periods for travelers from some destinations or if they have been abroad at all.
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. The captain has the final say and many airlines employ medical consultants. As fears over COVID-19 rise, expect increased vigilance and potentially restrictions on people who simply have a cold or allergy symptoms.
You should consider whether it’s wise to book new travel, even for months from now. It’s true that there are deals to be had and many airlines, cruise lines, and tour groups are offering unprecedented flexibility to make changes. However, most travel insurance will not reimburse you for coronavirus-related cancellations so check policies very carefully. Further travel bans, restrictions, and advisories are possible. And you need to consider how you may be contributing to the spread of disease, particularly to vulnerable populations.
Easy and Common Sense Protections
Following the advice of health experts like the WHO will minimize your chance of getting sick from this new coronavirus. The advice to protect yourself from getting sick—and to minimize the spread to others—is pretty easy to follow, and it’s what we should all be doing anyway to prevent colds and flus.
- Wash Your Hands: A 20-second scrub using warm running water and soap is best (the Mayo Clinic says to sing “Happy Birthday” twice); one of Canada’s provincial health officers says “wash your hands like you’ve been chopping jalapenos and you need to change your contact [lenses]”). 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). Soap and water are more effective, but if you don’t have access to a sink, using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is fine (scrub well). Regardless, wash your hands often: certainly after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose; before you prepare food; before and after eating, and after using the restroom. And throw those used tissues away immediately (and then wash your hands).
- 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: Yes, covering your cough or sneeze with your hand is preferable to spraying all those tiny virusy droplets directly into the air. But then you’ve contaminated your hand and you’ll inevitably touch something or someone. So, make a new habit of coughing/sneezing into the inside of your elbow (although a tissue should be your first choice). And while you’re at it, break that other habit of crossing your arms and putting your hands right onto your sneeze spots.
- Physical Distancing: It’s always wise to keep your distance from sick people. During the COVID-19 outbreak, try to keep a three- to six-foot distance from others. No hugs, kisses, or handshakes, please. And really, during cold and flu season why not keep close contact just for loved ones?
- Don’t Touch Animals You Don’t Know: 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 is also reminding people of its general advice to be extra careful in markets that have live animals or non-refrigerated meats and fish.
And of course, to prevent others from getting sick, isolate yourself if you have COVID-19 symptoms.
People who have higher risks—the immunosuppressed, those with other health conditions, and older adults—should follow the advice of their doctor.
Still feeling a little paranoid? It’s good practice to regularly disinfect surfaces that get handled frequently (your phone is filthy). You can use a wipe to clean off your tray table, armrests, and seatbelt, though the evidence is unclear whether this is effective in killing germs or just cleaning up that bit of sticky spilled Coke. Don’t assume you’re safer in a taxi or Uber: it’s easier not to touch surfaces on the subway or bus, and those vehicles have a regular cleaning schedule while cars do not.
At restaurants, do an extra hand wash after you’ve given back the menu and before you start to eat. Assuming buffets ever return, use hand sanitizer before and after you touch serving utensils and be sure to only put food on a clean plate; don’t bring your used plate back to the smorgasbord. And while we’re at it, let’s call a halt to waiters at fancy restaurants picking up your used napkin and refolding it when you step away from the table. Let’s all just keep our germs to ourselves, yes? Here’s what restaurants may look like in the age of COVID.
Yes, You Should Wear a Mask
As understanding of how COVID transmits improves, face masks are becoming mandatory in more countries, both indoors and outdoors, sometimes enforced with fines for non-compliance; Al Jazeera lists various countries’ rules. The CDC recommended April 3 that Americans wear one in public and the WHO updated its mask advice on June 6. Masks have been shown to reduce the chance of you spreading your illness to other people when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or talk. There is considerable evidence that masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by people who don’t realize they have the virus, as they have no symptoms. However, studies show that masks are not more effective than physical distancing measures, and keeping six feet apart from others is still the most effective way of preventing COVID-19 spread.
There’s new evidence that masks help protect the wearer from COVID-19—in addition to helping protect nearby people —comes alongside new calls for air passengers to wear masks on flights.
Masks can give a false sense of security and most people don’t use them correctly: people wear them over just their mouth and not their nose, fidget with them, put them on and off without washing our hands, don’t wash them properly, and re-use masks that are meant to be single-use. Remember that it’s easy to contaminate yourself just by taking off your mask. If you take it off to eat or drink, be sure to store it in a clean place. The virus can still enter your body through your eyes, and glasses or a face shield can help protect you from that.
People who find wearing a mask uncomfortable might find that the new HeartFormSF device improves their ability to wear a mask, particularly for longer periods of time and during exercise. The thin plastic shield sits between the mask and the wearer’s mouth and prevents the mask fabric from being “sucked” close to the mouth when breathing (alongside the feeling of pending suffocation some people complain of).
What If I’m Sick?
Stay home and self-isolate if you feel sick. To help stop the spread of COVID-19, the WHO and other experts are asking people to stay home from work, school and travel if they have symptoms of a cold, even if they’re mild.
Given the increased monitoring since the discovery of the new coronavirus, anyone who shows signs of illness could be prevented from entering a store let alone boarding a plane, cruise, train, or bus. Many airports, seaports, hotels, and tourist attractions have installed thermal imaging cameras to scan people as they walk by. Anyone showing a fever is pulled aside for additional questioning and maybe quarantine.
If you exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus—fever, cough, and difficulty breathing—follow the instructions of your health care provider as soon as possible. Usually, this means calling ahead to your doctor or hospital so that they can take precautions to isolate you from other patients while they carry out testing. Be sure to advise doctors if you’ve been traveling.
Where to Get Updated Information
A new virus like this coronavirus means a rapidly changing situation. Scientists at the WHO have the up-to-date intel on the virus. Rely on their information, advice, and travel restrictions on the WHO’s website. Other reliable government advice includes Canada’s.
Note that fake coronavirus news (see these busted COVID-19 myths) is spreading fast with the WHO calling it an “infodemic.” Well-meaning people are also spreading misinformation or opinions presented as facts, which is increasing fear and confusion. Trust in governments, public health institutions, and scientists is being affected, which could have more serious consequences than COVID-19 itself.
Scams related to COVID-19 exist. False claims about cures and treatments are frequent. People have died by following them. The WHO provides myth-busting information and reports that criminals are using the WHO’s name to steal personal information and money. Text messages and emails are impersonating governments and tempting clicks by offering income supports. Always go directly to a government website before giving your personal information. Do not click through links in suspicious messages.