International Travel Has Reopened: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Go Right Now

The Riesenrad, the ferris wheel that is one of the symbols of the city of Vienna

By Jonathan Spira on 13 November 2021
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The reopening of international borders has given rise to family reunions and the activation of long-dormant travel plans to Europe but such trips come with a fairly large caveat: “Avoid travel” recommendations from Austria to the former Yugoslavia are now in place.

“Because of the current situation,” the CDC writes on its travel-advisory website, “even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants.”

The situation that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is referring to is both dire and real: Europe is in the early stages of another major surge.

This raises the question as to whether the situation is as bad as the numbers from the World Health Organization suggest or is the CDC being a bit alarmist.

As outlined below, the numbers show that the  situation is, in fact “dire,” as noted by Landeshauptmann Thomas Stelzer of Oberösterreich, or Upper Austria.

Unlike the surge in March, when vaccination programs were still getting underway in some countries, there is no singular explanation this time around.  Countries in Central and Eastern Europe, many which were behind the Iron Curtain, a low vaccination rate is the likely cause.  Indeed, Bulgaria, Russia, and Slovenia have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the developed world.

As a result, all of Europe, which, according to the World Health Organization definition, comprises 53 countries, “covering a vast geographical region from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans,” is in one of two red zones.  The first, Level 3, where the CDC’s risk assessment is merely just “high,” includes France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Spain, among other countries.  The dark red zone, Level 4, where the risk assessment is “very high,” includes Austria, Norway, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

There are worse ratings than “very high” on the map, but they are unlikely to be on your holiday trip list.  That rating is “unknown,” and comes with the explanation that, “because the situation is unknown, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk,” and that list includes mostly non-European countries including Venezuela and all of the stan countries including Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

Austria, France, Germany and the United Kingdom have vaccination rates that are ten percentage points ahead of the United States, yet it appears that the delta variant is spreading to non-vaccinated and non-boosted people as temperatures fall and people returns indoors, where fresh air is in short supply and social-distancing practices may not be practiced.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the percentage of the population that is fully vaccinated is 80%, the surge, while enough to put the country in the CDC’s Level 3 red zone, is not as great as elsewhere on the Continent.

Some countries are swiftly moving to address the surge including Austria, where a lockdown for all non-vaccinated individuals goes into effect on Monday.

“We have to tighten the screws again,” said Austrian Bundeskanzler Alexander Schallenberg to reporters on Friday.

In neighboring Germany, the number of new coronavirus infections has skyrocketed in the past week, with 50,196 new cases reported by the Robert Koch Institut on Thursday and an additional 48,640 on Friday.

The surge in the Bundesrepublik led Dr. Christian Drosten, the head of virology at Charité, one of the largest university-affiliated hospitals in Europe, to warn that 100,000 people could die if the vaccination rate doesn’t increase quickly.  He said that Germany faces “a very tough winter with new shutdown measures,” terming the situation “a real emergency.”

Germany also faces a possible lockdown as the patchwork of regional rules are often laxly enforced.

The Netherlands, which is also in the Level 4 red zone, imposed a partial lockdown that requires restaurants, bars, and cafés to close at 8 p.m. and shops selling non-essential goods at 6, a restriction that also impacts hairdressers and sex workers.  Amateur and professional sports matches will take place without spectators and people were strongly encouraged to work from home wherever possible.

Denmark, which in September downgraded the coronavirus as no longer being a “socially critical” disease, reinstated the vaccine passport that was ended in September.

The situation is starting to mirror Europe in the United States.  While the number of cases was steadily falling over the past few months, that has come to an end and, as of Saturday, the 14-day average number of new cases is up 9%.

Given the current trends and uncertainty as to whether the number of cases will continue to rise or that curve will at least flatten, travel to Europe at the moment is an especially bad idea.

It’s happened before: “The end is nigh,” would be pundits and experts proclaim and, as soon we begin to move one step forward in terms of the end of the pandemic, we immediately take half a step back.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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