Do travel advisories mean anything anymore in the age of COVID-19?

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Hooray: it's spring and everything is opening up again! Or so it seems.

Now that the vast majority of countries are technically open for tourism and visitors, we are left to make our own decisions about what level of COVID-19 risks we are willing to accept.

And that's where travel advisories come in -- or should come in.

For decades, we have relied on our government's travel advisories to tell us where to avoid going, in order to remain safe.  But since COVID-19, many countries' travel advisory systems have gone haywire.  

Here in the United States, we have seen top level travel advisories to countries with far less COVID-19 community spread than we have locally.

And some countries with lower actual COVID-19 risk have been placed higher on the travel advisory list than countries with higher risk.

This has been complicated by the fact that travel advisories are based on countries' self-reported COVID-19 spread, which in many countries seem vastly undercounted.

Today, in the United States, most of Africa and South Asia list COVID-19 risk as low, while Western Europe is considered higher risk. Scientists are actively debating whether African countries' self-reported COVID-19 spread is accurate.

However, it's very unlikely that traveling in the U.S. puts you at less risk of COVID-19 than Norway.

What's even more confusing is that there are no countries on the top level list of COVID-19 risk (Level 4).

In a world where COVID-19 rates are climbing once again, and some areas are even going into lockdown again, this is surprising.

The upshot is that for many countries, the travel advisory warnings are useless. For those who are concerned about COVID-19 spread in a travel destination, you will need to look up the details yourself.

For those who aren't concerned about COVID-19, the travel advisory list is simply another thing to ignore.

In the U.S., it seems, the COVID-19 travel advisory list has gone the way of California's Prop 65 warnings: it covers so much that it is essentially meaningless, and you're left doing the research yourself.

Do you have comments about the travel warning system? Drop us a line and let us know.

ELH Staff