Travel Advisories update. EU to welcome vaccinated travelers. A look at COVID tests required by countries

By David Tykol
This item appears on page 4 of the June 2021 issue.
The 5th-century monastery of St. George lies in the gorge of Wadi Qelt, between Jerusalem and Jericho.

Dear Globetrotter:

Welcome to the 543rd issue of your monthly worldwide travel magazine, keeping dreams of travel alive while actual travel has been on hiatus.

We recently heard from Joaquin Ho of Orlando, Florida, who was reflecting on his past travels. He has an information request for his fellow ITN subscribers: “What dishes or types of food have you enjoyed most on your travels and what was it that you liked about each?”

So tell us about some of your favorites, describing them as best you can and telling us where you found them (outside of the US) and approximately when. Email or write to Favorite Foods, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818. Give us all something to look forward to.

On the news front…

In this column last month, I explained how the US State Department ranks the safety of traveling to countries and territories on a scale from 1 to 4, 4 being described as “Do not travel” and 1 being “Exercise normal precautions.” At the time I wrote that, 30 countries were ranked at level 4, many of them due to COVID-19. (The 210 places ranked can be found at the Travel Advisories web page

Since then, with worldwide incidents of infections growing at a record rate, the State Department has greatly increased the number of countries ranked 4 due to COVID-19. By the time you read this, 80% of the countries and territories listed will likely be ranked 4. (Note that some countries, such as Syria, would have been ranked “Do not travel” anyway.)

Additionally, last month there were only three countries ranked 1: Macau, Taiwan and New Zealand. Due to COVID, all three have been downgraded, Taiwan and New Zealand to 3 and Macau to 4. Bhutan, however, has been upgraded, becoming the lone rank-1 country.

For those of you willing and ready to travel anyway, especially to Europe, there is some good news. In statements made on April 26, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, indicated that fully vaccinated US travelers will be among those allowed to visit all countries in the EU again starting this summer.

If so, the US, which has a ban on nonessential travel from the EU, is expected to reciprocate.

At press time, there was no official date for vaccinated Americans to be allowed entry to the EU.

Whether in Europe or elsewhere, among the countries that are accepting foreign visitors, some are requiring that travelers prove they have tested negative for COVID-19 before arriving. Even among countries accepting visitors who have been vaccinated for COVID, some are also requiring proof of a negative COVID test result.

People wishing to travel to those countries will usually have a choice of two types of tests, a nasal PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test or a saliva antigen test, though some countries specifically require a PCR test. Both detect active COVID-19 infections.

PCR tests are the most accurate but also take longer for results, a day or more. They test for COVID-19 RNA. The quicker antigen tests, with results in as little as 15 minutes, test for COVID-19 viral proteins.

While the antigen test has a greater chance of giving a false result, it’s accuracy rate is good enough for many purposes. (It is recommended that a person who tests positive on an antigen test follow up with a PCR test to confirm the result. Likewise, a person who tests negative on an antigen test should follow up with a PCR test if he or she has COVID-19 symptoms or is known to have been exposed to someone with a confirmed infection.)

As for whether being vaccinated would cause you to falsely test positive for the virus, that is not the case with either a nasal PCR test or a saliva antigen test. Both require the actual presence of the virus for a positive result. (False positives for reasons other than being vaccinated might still occur, though rarely.)

The only type of test for which being vaccinated CAN cause a positive result is a test for COVID-19 antibodies, or proteins that can fight off infection, and testing for that requires a blood sample.

It can take roughly two weeks after fighting off an infection or being vaccinated for antibodies to be measurable, so a positive result on an antibody test will show that a person has either recovered from an infection or has had a successful course of vaccinations, but it does not indicate an active infection. In other words, a positive result on a test for antibodies would be a good thing, as it would show that the traveler is now more resistant to COVID-19 infections.

At press time, only one country, Israel, was requiring incoming travelers to take antibody tests, which were being administered at Ben Gurion International Airport. Israel also was requiring each visitor to show either proof of vaccination or recovery (medical records) and a negative PCR test before arrival.

And, believe it or not, we’re starting to hear about subscribers setting out on trips. They’ve had their COVID vaccinations and, taking the proper precautions, have found places they can go.

If you’ve just taken a trip, tell us how it went — the good and bad — and what COVID requirements and restrictions you were subject to along the way. Also tell us what you were able to do, fun-wise, at your destination. What businesses and attractions were open? (See our email and mailing addresses on page 4.)

Keep us all informed about the possibilities out there.