Delta variant travel restrictions: Tourists wonder where they can go — and whether they should

(CNN) — The 2021 summer travel season started out full of hope and promise, but by the day, two words are threatening to dismantle it all.

Delta variant.

This more transmissible variation of the coronavirus was first detected in India in February, just when the United States and some other places around the world were starting to really gear up their vaccination efforts. It turned out to be a race against time: vaccines vs. Delta. And just like all other waves of the pandemic, travel feels the Covid impact quick and hard.

From new travel advisories issued this week to Google searches on the topic in the past 24 hours, it’s clear the Delta variant is causing increasing worry and disruptions for governments and would-be travelers.

New US travel advisories

The Alfama district can be seen in Lisbon. The US moved Portugal to a “Level 4: Do not travel” advisory on Monday.

Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images

On Monday, the US State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new advisories for five nations, citing the rise in Covid-19 cases:

Cyprus (Level 4: Do not travel)
Israel (Level 3: Reconsider travel)
Spain (Level 4: Do not travel)

Other places you’re advised not to visit

The pandemic has hit São Paulo and the rest of  Brazil hard.

The pandemic has hit São Paulo and the rest of Brazil hard.


Spain and Portugal join a growing list of popular travel destinations in the “Level 4: Do not travel” category, which is the highest on the State Department’s scale. Level 4 is also the highest alert for the CDC.

Some of the other places on Level 4 as of Tuesday that are traditionally popular with travelers around the world:

Argentina (which has been closed to most international tourism during the pandemic)
South Africa (many nations will not allow visitors to enter if they have recently been to South Africa)
United Kingdom (the CDC warns that even if you’re fully vaccinated, you may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants).

White House: Existing restrictions will stay for now

More evidence of the mounting concern and its effect on travel:

On Monday, the White House decided to keep existing coronavirus travel restrictions in place, press secretary Jen Psaki said.

“We will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point for a few reasons. The more transmissible Delta variant is spreading both here and around the world,” Psaki told reporters. “Driven by the Delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated and appear likely to continue in the weeks ahead.”

The announcement came as the Biden administration has been under growing pressure from the travel industry and US allies to lift restrictions limiting who can travel to the US.

People who have been in Brazil, China, the European Schengen Area, Iran, India, Ireland, South Africa and the United Kingdom in the past 14 days are denied entry to the United States.

What people want to know — on Google at least

Mexico has maintained a rather liberal travel policy during the pandemic. This is a general view of the Templo Mayor archaeological area, a popular tourist spot in Mexico City.

Mexico has maintained a rather liberal travel policy during the pandemic. This is a general view of the Templo Mayor archaeological area, a popular tourist spot in Mexico City.

Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

If you want to know what’s on people’s collective minds, just check Google searches. The Delta variant is a rising trend.

World searches: Around 1:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Google Trends posted a 100% increase in searches for the term “Delta variant travel restrictions” in the past 24 hours worldwide.

Other rising searches around the world focused on restrictions for particular places: Victoria (Australia) and Mexico were on top.

In the state of Victoria, Australia, they are set to end their fifth lockdown on Wednesday even as they tighten the border with neighboring New South Wales, according to the Guardian newspaper. (Victoria holds the city of Melbourne while Sydney is located in New South Wales.)
Mexico, on the other hand, has had the opposite response. It has been — and continues to be — one of the easiest countries to visit.
Its land border with the United States has been closed for well more than a year now, but air traffic has been flowing in from all over the world. You don’t even have to provide a negative PCR test result or quarantine on arrival. Mexico was at “Level 3: High” on the CDC’s advisory list.

People across the world were also looking at the US for guidance on broader concerns with searches for “US International restrictions” or “CDC restrictions” also rising in the past day.

US searches: Search queries originating from the United States mostly looked outward. Very few US states at the moment have any domestic travel restrictions despite the sharp rise in infections among the unvaccinated.

There was a 450% increase in search in 24 hours for the term “Spain travel advisory,” spurred by Monday’s announcement. And also big spikes for more general international searches such as “Can US citizens travel to Europe?”

The answer to that second query varies by country and by day as restrictions are constantly changing. But most of Europe — including heavyweights such as France and Germany — opened up to US citizens earlier this summer and remained open Tuesday despite the US travel ban still blocking many Europeans.

Greece is a rising search term on Google in the UK. And it's open for people there who'd like to visit places in Greece such as Santorini.

Greece is a rising search term on Google in the UK. And it’s open for people there who’d like to visit places in Greece such as Santorini.


UK searches: In the United Kingdom, the United States and Greece were of the highest international interest.

For UK travelers eager to visit America, the ban is still in effect for them.

As for Greece, it was one of the first European countries to open back up. It is open to UK travelers — and many others around the world. The EU and Schengen Area countries can visit, along with places such as Canada, China, Japan, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
Internally to the UK, there’s been a huge spike in search interest — more than 2,600% — regarding Scotland’s plan to offer free bus travel for the young set. It would be for people 21 and younger staring January 31, according to the BBC.

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