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Go or No Go? US Updates Travel Advisories Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

A traveler wears a face mask to protect against the coronavirus, at Salgado Filho Airport in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Feb. 27, 2020.
A traveler wears a face mask to protect against the coronavirus, at Salgado Filho Airport in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Feb. 27, 2020.

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to spread across the globe and countries are reporting new confirmed cases, the United States is closely monitoring and updating travel advisories.

The State Department says when it comes to issuing a travel alert for Americans traveling abroad, it takes into account health risks, including current disease outbreaks or a crisis that disrupts a country’s medical infrastructure, as well as the issuance of a travel notice by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are four travel advisory levels: Level 4—do not travel; Level 3—reconsider travel; Level 2—exercise increased caution; and Level 1—exercise normal precautions.

On Feb. 26, the State Department raised the travel advisory to level 3—reconsider travel—on South Korea. The change comes after the CDC issued a Level 3 travel warning for people to avoid non-essential travel for South Korea, and after a U.S. soldier there tested positive for coronavirus.

The U.S. is asking travelers who spent time in South Korea during the past 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing to seek medical advice, and also to avoid contact with others.

Also on Wednesday, while maintaining a Level 4 warning or 'do not travel' to Iran (due to the risk of kidnapping and the arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens), the State Department updated information amid more confirmed cases of coronavirus and deaths in that country.

"Several countries have closed their borders with Iran and/or suspended air traffic to and from Iran. As a result, commercial travel to and from Iran may become severely limited with little or no notice,” said the State Department.

The U.S. has advised against travel to Mongolia, a country that neighbors China, due to travel and transport restrictions. The State Department has also allowed for the voluntary departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members.

The update comes after Mongolia's government took several precautionary measures, including closing schools until March 30, the mandatory shutdown of restaurants and bars at midnight, and the prohibition of all public events such as concerts. The country's president, Battulga Khaltmaa, is also in quarantine after returning from a trip to China.

This week, the U.S. travel advisory on Italy was increased to Level 2 -- exercise increased caution -- after separate cases were confirmed in Tuscany and Sicily. But the U.S. does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to Italy, a popular travel destination.

Italy and Iran are among the countries with the largest numbers of coronavirus cases outside Asia.

On Feb. 22, the travel advisory on Japan was raised to Level 2—exercise increased caution—after coronavirus infections on a cruise ship and an increase in cases confirmed in the country.

Thursday, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested all schools to close from March 2 until the end of spring break, in a bid to stop coronavirus spreading.

In another drastic move, Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, which has seen the largest number of coronavirus cases in the country, declared a state of emergency on late Friday. The island is known for its volcanoes, natural hot springs and ski resorts.

And as for whether the Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be canceled due to the coronavirus, the International Olympics Committee said a decision will be made around May.

The U.S. government already has a check-list for potential travelers to the sporting event set to open July 24 in Tokyo.

The following is a breakdown of travel advisories on countries and areas, as of Feb. 28, according to the State Department.

Level 4: Do Not Travel

COVID-19 outbreak related updates: China, Iran.
Other non-coronavirus risk indicators, including terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict: Iraq, Mali, Central African Republic, Venezuela, Yemen, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, North Korea, Libya, North Korea, Afghan.

Level 3: Reconsider Travel

COVID-19 outbreak related updates: South Korea, Mongolia.
Other non-coronavirus risk indicators, including terrorism, kidnapping, and armed conflict: Pakistan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, Nigeria, Lebanon, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Sudan, Honduras, Haiti, Nicaragua.

Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution

COVID-19 outbreak related updates: Italy, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau.
Other non-coronavirus risk indicators, including crimes, civil unrest, and arbitrary enforcement of local laws: Ukraine, Guinea, Russia, Serbia, Timore-Leste, Brazil, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Nepal, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Mauritania, South Africa, Belgium, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, The Bahamas, Tajikistan, Dominica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Spain, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar (Burma), El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Malawi, Ethiopia, Cote d’lvoire, Uruguay, Netherlands, Madagascar, Egypt, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sri Lanka, Germany, Kosovo, Guyana, Zimbabwe, Maldives, United Kingdom, Republic of the Congo, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago, Philippines, Kenya, Colombia, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Algeria, Morocco, France, India, Guatemala, Turks and Caicos Islands, Eritrea, Antarctica, Belize, Tunisia, Israel, Jordan.

Level 1: Exercise Normal Precautions

Thailand, Palau, Solomon Island, Micronesia, Luxembourg, Australia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Poland, Croatia, Canada, The Kyrgyz Republic, Samoa, Armenia, Zambia, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana, North Macedonia, Seychelles, Mauritius, Fiji, The Gambia, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Cabo Verde, Bulgaria, Austria, New Zealand, French Guiana, Djibouti, Tonga, Kiribati, Ireland, Brunei, Belarus, Suriname, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Laos, Finland, Norway, Andorra, Hungary, Cyprus, Romania, Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia, Moldova, Ghana, Albania, Greece, Malta, Czech Republic, Iceland, Lithuania, Portugal, Benin, Togo, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saint Kitts and Nevis, British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Panama, Comoros, Turkmenistan, Saint Lucia, Malaysia, Georgia, Angola, Kazakhstan, Nauru, New Caledonia, Sweden, French Polynesia, Vanuatu, Barbados, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda, Tuvalu, Grenada, French West Indies, Mozambique, Bhutan, Paraguay, Sao Tome and Principle, Gabon, Sint Maarten, Curacao, Cayman Islands, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, Bermuda, Aruba, Liberia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore, Uzbekistan, Marshall Islands, Argentina.