CDC Advises Travelers to Avoid Travel to India, UK Issues India Travel Ban, & U.S. State Department to Expand “Do Not Travel” Guidance
On Monday, April 19, 2021, the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a new travel advisory advising citizens to avoid all travel to India. The update comes as the Department of State announced that it would revise travel advisories to more closely align with guidelines from the CDC. According to the CDC, the new variants of the COVID-19 virus that have been discovered in India merits increased restrictions on travel to and from India. The U.S. State Department stated on Monday that it will boost “Do Not Travel” guidance to almost 80% of countries worldwide due to the “unprecedented risk to travelers.” On Monday, India’s travel advisory was set to Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution, but on Wednesday, the Department of State upgraded the travel advisory to Level 4: Do not travel.
The United Kingdom will add India to the country’s travel ban “red list” starting Friday, April 23 as India reports over 200,000 new COVID-19 cases per day in the last week. Anyone who has been in one of the red list countries is banned from traveling to England. UK citizens and residents are exempted from the total ban but still must isolate at select hotels for 10 days. This comes as England’s health secretary estimated 103 cases of the Indian variant and Ireland reported three cases of the variant. The head of Ireland’s national virus laboratory called it a “variant of interest.”
India Variant: “Double Mutation”
According to the CDC, the COVID-19 variants that are spreading widely within India and elsewhere can have many potential consequences for travelers, including:
- Ability to spread more quickly
- Ability to cause more severe disease
- Decreased susceptibility to common treatments such as monoclonal antibodies
- Ability to evade natural or vaccine-induced immunity
The CDC cites the COVID-19 level at the highest level: Level 4, or Very High. The CDC also advises travelers to avoid all travel to India. Even fully vaccinated travelers may still be at risk for contracting and transmitting these new variants and should remain vigilant. For essential travel, the CDC advises that travelers be fully vaccinated and should also maintain COVID-19 safety protocols, such as always wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, washing their hands, and keeping a minimum six-foot distance from others.
At the end of March, the Indian health ministry acknowledged that a “double mutant” variant had been identified. The new variant has been minimized in official reports thus far, with the Press Information Bureau stating that the double mutation has been found in “Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, United Kingdom, USA,” and that “Higher transmissibility of this variant is not established as yet.”
Forbes reported that Israeli health officials have attested that the Pfizer vaccine is “at least partially effective against the potentially worrisome Indian variant of the coronavirus which has been rapidly spreading in India’s worst-hit Covid-19 hotspots and is being viewed as the likely culprit behind the country’s devastating second wave.” The double mutant variant is reportedly responsible for almost 60% of all positive cases in Maharashtra, India.
United States Travel Bans
While President Biden has let visa-specific bans expire, his administration has extended and further expanded geographical bans on travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including restrictions on travel from Europe, China, Brazil, Iran, and South Africa. While the State Department and CDC announcements on increased travel advisories are not binding restrictions, these notices could be indicative of additional restrictions to come on travel from areas with high rates of COVID-19 cases and variants.
When planning travel, you should also consider that:
- Embassies and consulates are operating on a limited basis, with some locations only providing services to U.S. citizens.
- Visa appointments can be canceled with little notice due to COVID-19 conditions in the area.
- Flights may be canceled if travel restrictions are implemented (whether in your destination country, the United States, or other locations for flight connections).
- Plan for delays in obtaining visa appointments and avoid all non-essential travel if possible.
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