THE COVID-19 VACCINES have arrived. Does this mean we’ll soon be free to roam the world, guilt- and hassle-free? The short answer is no. While an inoculation protects you from getting sick, it’s not yet known whether the vaccines will prevent an asymptomatic person from passing the virus to others. The shots “are extraordinarily good at preventing symptoms if you contract the virus, but we don’t know if you can still spread the virus after vaccination,” said Matt McCarthy, associate professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York.
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Medical experts say that it will take months to reach the herd immunity—which some estimates put at 70% to 80% of the population—that will allow normal life to resume, much less normal travel. Most vaccines require two doses several weeks apart, and another month for the full benefits to kick in, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bottom line: You’ll still need to follow guidelines on mask use, social distancing and Covid testing if you want to get out of Dodge.
Meanwhile, look for “immunity passports” to become the latest travel accessory, as tourist destinations gear up to reopen. United,
and other airlines are already backing an app called Common Pass that allows carriers to verify your test results and vaccine status. The International Air Transport Association is testing a similar Travel Pass with
Emirates airline, Singapore Air and several other carriers.
Australia on your bucket list? Flagship carrier
which has been partially grounded since last March, plans to ramp up long-distance flights later this year but it’s considering only allowing passengers who can show proof of a Covid inoculation.
So, a vaccine passport might not be your Get Out of Jail Free card anytime soon. It’s “a nice idea but there are many logistic hurdles,” said Dr. McCarthy. “If someone was vaccinated in January, will they be immune in August? We don’t know.”
Some Borders Are Open But With Roadblocks
NOT SO long ago, habitual travelers, growing more impatient by the day for the pandemic to end, thought they might be ready to resurrect their long-shelved getaways even before being vaccinated. Then in late January came the news that anyone entering the U.S. would now have to produce a recent negative Covid test—and that includes returning Americans.
But the prospect of getting stranded in a foreign country while awaiting an all-clear hasn’t deterred people like Tony Galano, a Manhattan attorney who’s heading to Aruba this month to spend a few weeks working remotely and escaping the winter cold. His hotel, the Renaissance Aruba, has already set up a rapid-test site on its premises for guests at $50 a person. And, given that the island—like its neighbors in the Caribbean—strictly enforces mask wearing and social distancing, Mr. Galano said he’s not worried about a possible positive test. His main gripe? The island’s curfew that shuts down most establishments by 10 p.m. “It kind of puts a damper on the nightlife,” he said.
Welcome to the new rules of travel, 2021 edition. “It’s an ever shifting landscape,” said
founder of Scott’s Cheap Flights, a travel deals site. He said the most accessible destinations–and those that don’t require a quarantine–are south of the border—Mexico, Central America and much of the Caribbean—but rules on tests, insurance and other entry requirements can vary. Further afield, most of Western Europe went into lockdown last month, while Turkey, Egypt and the Maldives are all currently admitting U.S. visitors who can show proof of a negative PCR test. But, as the U.S. State Department warns, foreign governments can change the rules at a moment’s notice. To wit: Earlier this week, the French government—in response to the new, more contagious strain of Covid-19—closed the borders of its overseas territories, including French Polynesia and St. Barts.
Elsewhere, big resorts are throwing in a cheap or even free Covid test to reassure U.S. visitors, said Mr. Keyes. But what if you’re staying in a boutique inn or a rental villa? “What might seem an easy trip to arrange gets a lot more complicated,” said Diana Hechler, president of D. Tours Travel, in Larchmont, N.Y. She recently booked a family on a trip to an eco-lodge in Costa Rica, and tapped her local contacts to find a clinic that could deliver results quickly enough that the clan could make their return flight home.
NO MATTER where in the world you’re going, things can change suddenly, so check frequently on the rules for visitors before you head to the airport. Here’s what you need to look for as you plan.
Testing requirements: Most countries with a few exceptions including Costa Rica, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, require proof of a recent negative Covid result for entry even if you’ve already been vaccinated. But the definition of what’s “recent” varies widely, ranging from 48 hours to up to 10 days before arrival. The type of test is crucial too. Some destinations require a PCR test, which takes longer to turn around than the antigen version (The U.S. will accept either from arriving travelers.) And some countries subject visitors to a follow-up test on arrival, or do random testing during your stay.
Mandatory insurance: A number of countries now require visitors to have Covid travel insurance that would cover medical and quarantine expenses, and many, like Aruba, will sell you a policy for as little as $30.
Curfews and other restrictions: Curfews are in effect in many countries to limit the spread of Covid, which means bars, casinos and other haunts may start shutting down as early as 9 p.m. Barbados also requires visitors to wear an electronic tracking bracelet, while awaiting the results of a post-arrival test, which might put a pall on that carefree beach escape.
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