A general view of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

WASHINGTON, Sept 7 (Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday warned against travel to Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Brunei because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The CDC raised its travel advisory to “Level 4: Very High” for those countries, telling Americans they should avoid travel there.

The CDC also eased its ratings for the Netherlands, Malta, Guinea-Bissau and United Arab Emirates from “Level 4: Very High” to “Level 3: High,” which urges unvaccinated Americans to avoid travel to those destinations.

The CDC also raised Australia from “Leve1 1: Low” to “Level 2: Moderate.”

In addition, the CDC raised its advisory level for Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Ghana, Grenada, Turks and Caicos Islands to “Level 3.”

The CDC issues travel recommendations by countries and for U.S. territories but does not list recommendations for individual U.S. states. It currently lists about 80 destinations out of around 200 ranked as “Level 4,” including some U.S. territories.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

(CNN) — Two tropical islands half a world apart and popular with tourists — Jamaica in the Caribbean and Sri Lanka in South Asia — are now among the highest-risk destinations for travelers.

That’s according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel advisories list, which was updated on Tuesday.

Also joining the bulging highest-risk list during a global swell of Delta variant cases is the isolated nation of Brunei on the island of Borneo.

People should avoid traveling to locations designated with the “Level 4: Covid-19 Very High” notice, the CDC recommends. Anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first, the agency advises.

How the CDC ranks nations

An aerial view of Kingston, Jamaica. The popular Caribbean island has been hit with a surge of Covid-19 cases recently.

An aerial view of Kingston, Jamaica. The popular Caribbean island has been hit with a surge of Covid-19 cases recently.

Valery Sharifulin/TASS/Getty Images

The CDC’s evolving list of travel notices ranges from Level 1 (“low”) to Level 4 (“very high”).

Destinations that fall into the “Covid-19 Very High” Level 4 category have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days, according to CDC criteria. The Level 3 category applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

Jamaica’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign has had low numbers so far, with only 19 doses given per 100 people as of Tuesday. It has been in a series of curfews since late August with “no-movement” days in hopes of slowing the virus’ spread.
Sri Lanka has seen a swell in cases recently despite having one of Asia’s stronger vaccination campaigns, with 102 doses administered per 100 people as of Tuesday. By comparison, its much larger neighbor India has only given 49 doses per 100 people.

Other popular destinations on Level 4

A view of the Peloponnese in Greece, which is at the CDC's highest risk level.

A view of the Peloponnese in Greece, which is at the CDC’s highest risk level.

Suzanne Plunkett/CNN

Some of the most visited vacation spots around the world occupy a spot on the CDC’s Level 4 list. That includes Covid-ravaged Brazil, which has occupied a spot there for months. Other popular nations currently considered the highest risk include:

— The Bahamas
— Costa Rica
— France
— Greece
— Iceland
— Ireland
— Malaysia
— Portugal
— South Africa
— Spain
— Thailand
— Turkey
— United Kingdom.

You may click here to see all Level 4 nations, plus the other three levels as well.

Level 3: High risk

Also on Tuesday, 10 nations were newly assigned to the CDC’s “Level 3: Covid-19 High” category. A big mover popular with the luxury travel set was the little Caribbean resort island of Anguilla.

It had been at “Level 1: Low” and had maintained strict protocols on arriving tourists throughout the pandemic. Visitors must be fully vaccinated to enter and still must take a Covid-19 test and quarantine.

The other places moved up to Level 3 on Tuesday were:

— Antigua and Barbuda (up from Level 2)
— Benin (up from Level 1)
— Ghana (up from Level

I live in Hong Kong, which has done a good job containing the pandemic. But the tradeoff is that it has been extremely difficult to travel anywhere.

Due to Hong Kong’s tough quarantine mandates, most residents have been limited to our city and can’t even cross the border into mainland China.

Normally I’m a hyperplanner, but nearly two years of not going more than 30 kilometers from my apartment had gone to my head. The idea of a country in Asia being open to tourists was so thrilling to me that I didn’t even do much research, figuring I could sort it out later and make sure regulations didn’t change before my trip.

Here’s how it went.

One week beforehand

In order to get into Sri Lanka, I needed more than a spontaneously purchased airplane ticket. Most visitors to the island nation must spend up to 14 days at a “level one” hotel or resort, which means it has received an official government designation as a safe, approved place to quarantine.

I’m glad that quarantine went smoothly, because a few days into my stay Sri Lanka loosened its rules, permitting vaccinated travelers to spend only one single night in quarantine provided they test negative on arrival. I’m immune compromised and have been bummed out about not getting vaccinated yet — at least this removed one layer of FOMO.

And this was no ordinary quarantine. While some places — like Australia and China — require all quarantiners to stay inside their hotel rooms except for when they are given PCR tests, Sri Lanka has come up with an innovative third path.

Guests are allowed to go anywhere on hotel or resort premises and can visit certain pre-approved “bubble attractions” provided they follow strict criteria. They are also allowed to stay at more than one property during those two weeks as long as all the hotels are level one-listed.

The Anantara Peace Triangle Tangalle is a level one listed resort, meaning they can host quarantiners.

The Anantara Peace Triangle Tangalle is a level one listed resort, meaning they can host quarantiners.

Courtesy of Anantara

Based on that, I went with a two-in-one deal from the Anantara hotel group — I would spend one week at its resort in Tangalle, at Sri Lanka’s southernmost tip, and then one week at a sister property in Kalutara, on the western coast.

In addition to the rooms, I was able to pay for my three mandated PCR tests up front and buy the mandatory health insurance (just $12 to cover up to $50,000 in hospital costs) through the hotel’s booking service, thus fulfilling all my travel requirements in one go.

Once I had everything confirmed in writing, I submitted the forms to Sri Lanka’s tourism board website and, after a few tense days of constant refreshing, got my tourist visa.

I scheduled a PCR test for 48 hours before my flight and pre-booked a hotel to quarantine in upon my return to Hong Kong (a must for being allowed out of the city in the first place). With everything in hand

Sri Lanka is hoping to launch a travel bubble with India to revive the country’s tourism industry. The bubble would allow travelers to visit both countries without quarantines, a first for either nation. However, any such bubble has been delayed until India has contained its second wave of cases.

srilankan-airlines-ceo-interview-capa-live-getty
SriLankan Airlines has been planning for a possible travel bubble in recent weeks, hoping to boost its passenger numbers. Photo: Getty Images

Restart

According to The Hindu, Sri Lanka is pursuing a travel bubble arrangement with India in the near future. The island nation has seen its tourism numbers fall rapidly since last March and with a minimal domestic market to cater to, is looking to reopen its international borders.

India is the biggest source of tourists for Sri Lanka and given the proximity between the countries, it is a prime target for a bio-bubble. Indians accounted for 18% of all tourist arrivals in January 2020, the last month before the pandemic disrupted global travel, making it key to the economy.

SriLankan Airlines A320
SriLankan Airlines hopes to see tourists return to the nation in the coming months. Photo: Getty Images

It is important to note that Sri Lanka is looking to create a bio-bubble with India and is already a part of India’s “travel bubble agreements.” The country joined this list last week, allowing flights to resume after a long halt.

If successful, it would be the first bio-bubble in South Asia and could mark the restart of international travel in the region.

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Not yet

While there have been ongoing discussions about the bio bubble in recent weeks, all the plans will have to wait. India is currently in the midst of a second wave of COVID-19 that is proving to be far more powerful than the first. With daily cases well over 250,000 and deaths quickly rising, more and more countries have been banning travel from India in recent weeks.

Sri Lanka has also clarified that it will be waiting for the second wave to die down before opening up a bio bubble between the countries. The country has also been battling rising cases since October, pushing up the total cases to over 97,000 currently.

India Repatriation
Rising cases in India has meant that the bubble has been postponed for now. Photo: Getty Images

For SriLankan Airlines, India is effectively the airline’s de-facto domestic market. The carrier flew to a whopping 14 destinations in India prior to the pandemic, making it the single most important market for now. Colombo serves as an important hub for connecting flights as well, flying to China, Australia, and beyond.

Soon

While any bio bubble date has been delayed, both governments insist this is just a postponement rather than a cancelation. The coming months will provide more clarity about when such a bubble will be feasible and what requirements will be in place. Testing will likely continue to be mandatory for any bubble considering both countries