Updated at 9:05 a.m. ET, Feb. 29
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regularly issues “Travel Health Notices” that address disease outbreaks and other health-related matters in international destinations. The newly discovered coronavirus is now a topic of concern.
The point of the warnings is to indicate countries where the CDC believes there is a risk of infection with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
There are three levels of notices based on the risk presented by the outbreak and what precautions are needed to prevent infection.
On Friday, Italy and Iran were moved into the highest notice level — “Warning Level 3” — joining China and South Korea. CDC advises travelers to avoid all nonessential travel to these countries. As part of the warnings, which were issued in late February, the CDC also cites limited access for visitors to adequate medical care. If travel is necessary, CDC advises travelers to discuss with their health-care provider.
Hong Kong, Macau and the island of Taiwan are excluded from this notice.
The only other country with a Warning Level 3 notice is Venezuela; CDC cites “outbreaks of infectious diseases” as well as the breakdown of the country’s health-care infrastructure.
During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, this warning level was issued to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.
The second notice level, “Alert Level 2,” suggesting that potential travelers “practice enhanced precautions,” has been issued for travel to Japan, which is experiencing person-to-person and community spread of COVID-19. This notice, according to CDC, is directed at older adults and those with “chronic medical conditions,” who are at greater risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19 if infected. CDC advises them to consider postponing nonessential travel to any country with this alert level.
The third notice level is “Watch Level 1.” At this level, the CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel but advises potential travelers to practice general precautions such as avoiding contact with sick people and washing hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60% to 95% alcohol.
The CDC also currently has other travel health notices unrelated to COVID-19. For example, it has issued the Level 2 Alert for several countries in Africa and Asia because of polio and a Watch Level 1 for some parts of Central and South America for dengue.
Many countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19 do not currently have travel advisories from the CDC. Dr. Lin Chen, president of the International Society of Travel Medicine, said when deciding to go to these countries, travelers should look into the country’s health-care system and make sure they have travel medical insurance that will provide coverage in their destination.
“I think it’s important to identify what a traveler would do if they become sick,” Chen said. “Having travel medical insurance is actually really important and gives you, perhaps, a peace of mind if you’re going into a country that has some [confirmed] cases.”