(CNN) — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moved three high-profile destinations to its highest-risk Level 4 category for travel on Monday.
Hong Kong and New Zealand have spent much of the pandemic in near isolation with relatively few infections and had been lauded as Covid success stories. However, the Omicron variant has caused massive spikes in cases in both places.
The CDC places a destination at “Level 4: Covid-19 Very High” risk when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered in the past 28 days.
To recap, the destinations added to Level 4 on March 7 are:
• Hong Kong
• New Zealand
All three destinations were previously listed at Level 3, considered “high” risk.
Global case numbers have been declining since peaking in late January, but experts caution that the pandemic is not over.
CDC: Avoid Level 4 destinations
London is an international tourism favorite and the largest city in the United Kingdom, which has been at Level 4 since last summer.
Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images
There are about 135 destinations currently at Level 4. While the number of places in the “very high” risk category has dipped slightly since topping around 140 in February, there are still more places in the Level 4 category than in all the other categories combined.
The CDC advises avoiding travel to Level 4 countries. CDC thresholds for travel health notices are based primarily on the number of Covid-19 cases in a destination.
Other tourist favorites stalled on Level 4 include Canada, Egypt, France, Greece, Peru and Singapore. The United Kingdom has been there since July 2021.
Changes at Level 3
Mexico, with Bahia Principe beach in Tulum pictured here, moved down from Level 4 to Level 3 on Monday.
Rodrigo Arangua/AFP via Getty Images
Tourists looking for some news that’s trending in a good direction will find it on this level.
The Level 3 “high” risk category — which applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days — saw six additions from various spots around the globe on Monday. They were:
• Cape Verde
• United Arab Emirates
Levels 2, 1 and unknown
On Monday, there was good news for people who are dreaming of a trip to Africa.
Destinations carrying the “Level 2: Covid-19 Moderate” designation have seen 50 to 99 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. Nine destinations representing all sections of the continent moved to Level 2 on March 7:
• Equatorial Guinea
• The Gambia
Last week, all of these destinations were at Level 3.
Africa continued to be a bright spot with the Level 1 category as well, including the popular safari and cultural favorite Kenya.
To be in “Level 1: Covid-19 Low,” a destination must have fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days. Eight places moved to Level 1 on Monday:
• Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
• Republic of Congo
The only destinations now listed at Level 1 outside of Africa are China and Taiwan.
Finally, there are destinations for which the CDC has an “unknown” risk because of a lack of information. Usually, but not always, these are small, remote places or places with ongoing warfare or unrest. The CDC made no new additions to the category on Monday.
Tanzania, Cambodia and Macau are among the more-visited locations currently listed in the unknown category. The CDC advises against travel to these places precisely because the risks are unknown.
A medical expert weighs in on risk levels
Transmission rates are “one guidepost” for travelers’ personal risk calculations, according to CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen.
“We are entering a phase in the pandemic where people need to make their own decisions based on their medical circumstances as well as their risk tolerance when it comes to contracting Covid-19,” Wen said in mid-February.
“You should interpret Level 4 to mean this is a place with a lot of community transmission of Covid-19. So if you go, there is a higher chance that you could contract the coronavirus,” said Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.
Some people will decide the risk is too high for them, Wen said. “Other people will say, ‘Because I am vaccinated and boosted, I am willing to take on that risk.’
“So this really needs to be a personal decision that people weigh understanding that right now the CDC is classifying the different levels based on community transmission rates, and basically only that,” Wen said. “They’re not taking into account individual circumstances.”
Top image: An aerial view shows buildings from the Mid-Levels area of Hong Kong on May 25, 2021. (Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)