ATLANTA - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say Americans can travel to more countries with a lower risk of contracting COVID-19 if they are fully vaccinated from COVID-19.
Dozens of countries were downgraded from "Level 4"— places to avoid travel —- to lower levels, places where Americans can travel with lower risk if they’re vaccinated.
Most notably, Japan was downgraded from "Level 4" to "Level 3," where vaccinated Americans can travel but unvaccinated Americans should not travel unless necessary. "Level 2" specifies unvaccinated Americans should not travel to certain countries if they have an increased risk for severe illnesses from COVID-19. "Level 1" advises people get to vaccinated before traveling to certain countries though the risk of contracting the virus is low.
The shift regarding Japan is welcoming news to hopeful athletes looking to compete in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, starting in late July. With around 11,000 athletes and thousands of more coaches, judges, team officials and media due in Tokyo for the games, all must comply with strict rules on testing, transport and contact with other people to keep those attending the event safe.
Last month, U.S. health officials and the State Department warned Americans against travel to Japan because of a surge in coronavirus cases in the country.
The CDC’s latest travel update comes as more vaccinated Americans look to vacation, making up for lost time from the global COVID-19 lockdown last summer.
According to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, nearly 2 million people were screened at airports on Memorial Day. That’s up from 2020 when more than 353,000 people were screened. However, the latest number still falls below the 2019 report, where 2.5 million travelers were screened at U.S. airports.
The CDC started easing its travel guidance in April, saying fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward. However, masks are still currently required on public transportation including airplanes, buses and trains.
Getting more Americans vaccinated remains a challenge. CDC data shows more than 139 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, representing 42.1% of the total U.S. population.
The pace of COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. has slowed in recent weeks, pushing President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of adult Americans receive their first dose by July 4 further out of reach. CDC data also shows the country is averaging fewer than 1 million shots per day. That’s far below April’s peak when the country was averaging more than 3 million shots a day.
One challenge with the vaccine rollout is vaccine hesitancy. A new Gallup poll showed that 78% of unvaccinated Americans say they don’t plan to ever get the shot.
Last week, Biden announced a "month of action" to urge more Americans to get vaccinated before the July 4 holiday, including an early summer sprint of incentives and a slew of new steps to ease barriers and make getting shots more appealing to those who haven’t received them.
Biden will also announce that he is assigning Vice President Kamala Harris to lead a "We Can Do This" vaccination tour to encourage shots. It will include first lady Jill Biden, second gentleman Doug Emhoff and Cabinet officials. Harris’ travel will be focused on the South, where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country, while other officials will travel to areas of the Midwest that have below average rates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.