PETER VOLNY, a retired advertising executive, typically flies more than 100,000 airline miles annually with his wife, and has even been to offbeat places like North Korea and Tajikistan in his quest to visit every country on earth. Fully vaccinated at last, he’s determined to make up for the lost pandemic year. “We are decidedly sick of being homebound,” he said. On the calendar: a five-week Greek idyll, an African safari and a trek to the jungles of Suriname and Guyana. Getting the shot, Mr. Volny said, gave him the confidence that “I’m vaccinated and I’m not scared of anything.”
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After a year of isolation and oppressively endless Zoom sessions, many of the newly vaxxed feel the same way. But it’s not a get-out-of-jail-card quite yet: In Mr. Volny’s case, with the exception of Greece this fall, his journeys can’t happen until 2022. And that gets to the paradox of the vaccine rollout and hopes for a travel reboot: Most of the world isn’t ready to roll back testing and quarantine rules for travelers just yet. We’re still in a pandemic, after all, and only a small percentage of the world’s population has gotten the jab.
It might be wise to laminate that CDC card you get when leaving the vax site so it won’t disintegrate in your wallet.
Many countries—including most of Western Europe—still aren’t open to U.S. tourists. Cases are rising in some areas; most of Italy, for example, just retreated into lockdown after a variant reared its head. You’ll still need to practice social distancing and wear masks for the foreseeable future, especially when you are in public with people you don’t know.
Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recently eased restrictions on small gatherings, continues to counsel against travel, even for the vaccinated. That’s because there’s still a risk of getting and spreading Covid-19 while away from home, the agency said. But the advice could change, according to a spokesman for the agency “as more people are vaccinated and we learn more about how vaccines work in the real world.” As travel resumes many people will want to dip their toe in gradually, said Joe Brancatelli, who runs the road warrior site joesentme.com. Here, some things to keep in mind as we get on the road again:
Where can I go?
In most places, the rules haven’t changed. Only a few countries are letting U.S. visitors bypass testing and quarantine rules if they have been vaccinated; among them are Belize, Iceland, the Seychelles, Georgia and Estonia. More countries should join the list later this year. Thailand, for example, has said it will lift its mandatory quarantine restrictions in the third quarter of this year for travelers with proof of vaccination. Even if your destination still requires a recent negative test, being vaccinated greatly reduces the odds you’ll test positive and end up in quarantine.
What’s a vaccine passport?
The race is on to come up with a standardized, all-purpose mobile app that will let you summon your health data, from vaccinations to tests, in one tap. “It’s the proverbial Wild West out there,” said
travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research. None of the existing options “is better than the other.” Most have partnerships with airlines, like the Travel Pass developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which is already being test-driven by big airlines such as Emirates and Singapore; the app should be available soon starting with Apple devices, IATA said. Others include Common Pass and Verifly, backed by United and American, respectively, among other airlines. Each essentially works the same way—giving you proof of immunity in digital form that obviates the need to show a paper document. But some people might prefer an analog version to having multiple health apps on their smartphones. Others may be reluctant to share health data online. Until such concerns are resolved, it might be wise to laminate that CDC card you get when leaving the vax site so it won’t disintegrate in your wallet.
Where are the deals?
In a crisis year, bargains abound, right? Not necessarily. “Cheap coach airline tickets will be scarce,” Mr. Brancatelli predicts. With flights still down about 50% from before the pandemic, it might take time for airlines to restore capacity to their route networks. But you might still score some good deals, according to the fare prediction site Hopper, which is betting that the window for finding the lowest domestic fares for summer will be from April 27 to May 7. International airfares will be lowest in the last weeks of both June and July, and in mid to late August, according to Hopper economist Adit Damodaran.
What if I am inoculated but my kids aren’t?
That’s a tough one. There’s currently no approved vaccine for those under 16 years old. For some travel suppliers, including a few cruise lines, minors traveling with a parent or guardian may be exempt from vaccine requirements if they have a negative test. “The most likely scenario for some time will be vaccinated parents traveling with kids who aren’t,” said Misty Belles, of the travel agency consortium Virtuoso.
Will there be vax-only cruises?
A few cruise lines are coming out with their own vaccination rules. Some say that they will require passengers to show proof of inoculation, as well as crews. Crystal Cruises, for example, in February announced that guests will need to prove they are fully vaccinated least 14 days before a cruise. American Queen Steamboat and Saga Cruise also said they’d introduce similar requirements. But the industry has pushed back the full resumption of cruising yet again and some lines are waiting for summer to be fully operational, which should give more people time to get the jab.
WHAT’S UP, DOC?
Three physicians specializing in epidemiology and infectious diseases on when—or if—the vaccine will reboot travel, and their own personal vacation plans for the coming year.
Dr. Davey Smith
Head of Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health, University of California at San Diego
Is it safe to travel after being vaccinated? “The CDC is being a bit conservative on restricting travel for vaccinated folks. Data is still coming in to help them make these decisions, so I bet that travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people will be lifted soon. And ‘safe’ is a relative word. Everyone has different risk assessments. Your risk isn’t zero, even if you do get the vaccine.”
Where he’s going this year: Tennessee to visit family; the Galápagos Islands to celebrate his 50th birthday.
Dr. Jessica Justman
Infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist at Columbia University
Is it safe to travel after being vaccinated? We can’t take our foot off the brake and get complacent; we still have a long way to go before most people are fully vaccinated. You still have to take all the same measures and protections we had to do before. But we are encouraged by early results from the rollout; the vaccines we have in the U.S. provide excellent protection against a severe case of Covid. To have that fear (of getting severely ill) taken off your shoulders is great, but we’re going to be wearing masks for some time.
Where she’s going this year: Montana to visit national parks
Dr. David Aronoff
Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Is it safe to travel after being vaccinated? “(Vaccinated) travelers in the U.S. pretty much can go wherever they want to domestically. We do need to keep our eyes on disease activity across the U.S., but so far things seem to be improving. Certainly I would avoid areas where there are increasing rates of infection. I’m optimistic about the near future. Soon, as more of the population gets immunized, we will see the CDC loosen its travel restriction guidance. Given that the vaccines could be available to most or all American adults in a few months this will likely be sooner than later.”
Where he’s going this year: Washington state to see his mother; Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to tour colleges with his daughter.
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