Some tourists are finding their plans for international travel dashed today, after the European Union announced they would be removing the US from their COVID “safe travel” list. Because the number of unvaccinated people in the US is so high, and transmission rate of COVID is surging, the EU decided it was necessary to restrict travel from the US to slow the international spread. There is a bit of good news in the announcement though.
EU Removes the US: What Does it Mean?
Tourists with dreams of international travel and plans to visit the EU this week found their plans in chaos. Forbes Advisor reports, “The European Union today took an action that was unfortunately predictable: it advised member nations to remove the United States from its list of countries which had Covid-19 numbers that allowed a loosening of restrictions. As the Delta variant surges among unvaccinated communities in the US, the EU took action to clamp down on tourists entering Europe without proof of vaccination.
As the summer began and Covid-19 numbers stabilized, many Americans made travel plans that included crossing the pond. If you are one of them, you may be wondering if this means you can no longer take your trip. The answer is, not necessarily. The devil is in the details.”
And those details are key; individuals who are vaccinated are still welcome to visit. The decision from the EU is non-binding to their members, but guidance is generally followed by all member countries. And this isn’t new for all of the EU. Some countries like the Czech Republic and Germany have been requiring proof of vaccination to enter for awhile now. This just extends the scope of the intended restrictions.
The message is clear: if you can provide proof of vaccination, we want you to visit. If not, stay away. As the Delta variant cases surge in the US and ally countries eye numbers warily, the choice not to vaccinate may become more and more restrictive as time goes by.
Travel in the US
Even within the US, travel is often restricted to those who are unvaccinated. While the unvaccinated can cross any state lines and enter most indoor buildings in the US, some cities and states are beginning to crack down. In New York City, for instance, you have to provide proof of vaccination to enter indoor dining, entertainment, and gym venues.
Other cities are considering similar legislation to stem the tide of cases. The Delta variant has been more virulent than its parent virus; spreading more quickly, with dire consequences for populations mostly unaffected by the first form of the virus. Now, children are being hit hard, many of whom are too young to be vaccinated.
It’s important to note why the Delta variant has changed things and is spurring businesses and cities to consider turning away the unvaccinated. The reproduction number – or “contagious factor”- is known as the r0 (pronounced “are nought”). For the original COVID strain, the r0 is around 2-3. That means for every COVID-19 positive case, 2 to 3 people are likely to become infected. The r0 for the Delta variant is between 6 and 7, with some studies showing as high as 6 to 9. This means for every Delta COVID positive case, around 7 people may catch the virus. That makes this virus less contagious than Chicken Pox (Varicella) with an r0 of 9-10, but not much less. Everyone has a story from their youth of basically looking at someone with the chicken pox and becoming infected and this virus is nearly as contagious.
In the United States, vaccine hesitance is relatively high. As of August 29th, just over 52% of the US population who is eligible has received a dose of the COVID vaccine. This includes children and adults over the age of 12. Because there’s a large population of US citizens under the age of 12 – around 48 million – who are not eligible to receive the vaccine yet, that suggests that a strong majority of people are likely to be vaccinated in time.
But that time has not occurred yet. So other countries desperate to control the spread of the Delta variant are understandably scared to let US citizens in, with their relatively high percent of unvaccinated individuals. Some countries still allow Americans to travel. Others are not taking a chance. For instance, in highly sought-after New Zealand, where cases are no longer active due to effective lockdown measures, anyone traveling from the US would have to complete a 14-day quarantine. But you can only travel to NZ from the US if you are a citizen of New Zealand, or a resident of New Zealand with a valid travel exception. This almost draconian and insulating approach has allowed them to defeat the virus almost completely, with just a handful of cases in months. These measures combined with total lockdowns have shown the world a path out of the virus.
A path, however, that citizens in the US seem unware of or unwilling to engage in, prolonging the misery into year two. But perhaps the inability to travel for pleasure or business will encourage more hesitant people to get vaccinated. If tourism is the incentive it takes to start moving people forward and past the grip COVID has on the US, the EU may be contributing to the long-term solution.