WASHINGTON – With Covid-19 continuing to sweep across Canada, the U.S. State Department this week offered Americans some blunt advice.
Don't go there.
For the first time, the State Department added Canada to its "do not travel" list, which names countries that Americans should avoid for safety reasons. It is part of an effort to make the State Department's travel advisories comport with Covid-19 advice offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That move means more than 115 countries – including Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Germany as well as Canada – found themselves listed alongside places like Afghanistan in the State Department's list of the world's most dangerous places, all because of the pandemic
"Do not travel to Canada due to Covid-19," the State Department's travel advisory said. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Canada due to Covid-19, indicating a very high level of Covid-19 in the country."
Meanwhile, the CDC health notice said: "Because of the current situation in Canada, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Canada. If you must travel to Canada, get fully vaccinated before travel. All travelers should wear a mask, stay six feet from others, avoid crowds and wash their hands."
Canada had previously been listed in Level 3 of the State Department's four-tier travel advisory system, which had said Americans should "reconsider travel" to the U.S. neighbor to the north.
The State Department move came in the same week that the Department of Homeland Security announced that the U.S.-Canadian land border would be closed to nonessential travel for a 14th consecutive month.
"To deter the spread of #Covid19 and protect our citizens, the United States is continuing restrictions on nonessential travel at our land borders through May 21, while maintaining the flow of essential trade and travel as we have for over a year," the agency said on Twitter.
Those U.S. moves came as Canada continued to struggle with its third wave of the pandemic. The Ontario provincial government reported that while the daily number of new infections dipped slightly, hospitalizations in Canada's hardest-hit province hit a record high on Wednesday. Admissions to intensive care units hit a record as well.
With his province two weeks into a stay-at-home order aimed at curbing the pandemic, Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Thursday held a press briefing in which he nearly broke into tears as he discussed the situation.
"I'm going to ask every Ontarian again – and I know that many of you might not want to hear it – but please stay at home," said Ford, who is quarantining at his mother's home after a staffer tested positive to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Nova Scotia closed its borders to visitors from several Canadian provinces, including Ontario and Quebec. And officials in British Columbia reported that a virus variant that overwhelmed India had appeared in that Canadian province.
Variants from the United Kingdom and Brazil have fueled the third and worst wave of the pandemic in Canada.
And while Canada's vaccination rate has increased recently, its reliance on hard-to-get imported vaccines slowed the start of its vaccination effort. According to the Our World in Data Covid-19 Data Explorer, only 2.54% of Canadians had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday. That compares to 26.1% of the population in the U.S.
The State Department's "do not travel" list is long. Thanks to the department's moves this week, more than 80% of the nations in the world are considered places Americans should avoid.
"This does not necessarily indicate a change to the current health situation in a given country," the State Department said in a Q&A explaining its new rankings. "It reflects an adjustment in our system to give more weight to CDC's existing assessments."
Even some nations that have opened their borders to vaccinated travelers, such as Greece and Croatia, made the State Department's "Do Not Travel" list. Iceland, another country that is opening up to travelers, got a Level 3 "reconsider travel" designation due to the Covid-19 risk it poses.
A handful of popular tourist spots – such as Thailand, Vietnam, Belize and the Caribbean Islands of Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis – received Level 2 "exercise increased caution" travel warnings.
And only one nation – the tiny, landlocked Asian nation of Bhutan – got a Level 1 "exercise normal precautions" ranking from the State Department.
Bhutan has vaccinated the majority of its population, but the State Department isn't exactly encouraging Americans to go there, or anywhere.
"We continue to strongly recommend U.S. citizens reconsider all travel abroad, and postpone their trips if possible," the State Department said.