The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday raised its coronavirus warning for the United Kingdom to Level 4, the highest on the agency’s scale, and urged Americans not to go there even if fully vaccinated.
The advisory comes as the U.K. faces an alarming surge in new COVID-19 infections, largely driven by the highly contagious delta variant, while the government simultaneously lifted nearly all remaining restrictions on public and indoor gatherings.
“Because of the current situation in the United Kingdom, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants,” the CDC said, noting that those who “must travel” to that country should make sure they are fully vaccinated first.
Monday had been dubbed “Freedom Day” in the U.K. as it was the highly anticipated day most of its restrictions were set to be lifted. But there was little to celebrate as many in the country were self-isolating amid another surge of infections and hospitalizations.
Even Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 last year, went back into quarantine Sunday after coming into close contact with virus-infected Health Secretary Sajid Javid.
At a virtual coronavirus briefing Monday, Johnson defended his decision to lift restrictions, saying it’s better to do it in the summer than in the colder months, when the virus has “a natural advantage.”
“We have to ask ourselves the question, If not now, when?” he said. “And though both deaths and hospitalizations are sadly rising, these numbers are well within the margins of what our scientists predicted at the outset.”
Johnson added that it’s “right” to proceed cautiously with reopening the country, but it’s “also right to recognize that this pandemic is far from over.”
The number of positive tests recorded over the past week in the U.K. was more than 40% higher than in the previous seven days, according to the government’s coronavirus dashboard. The death toll and hospitalizations there went up by 48% and 39.5%, respectively.
The rate of adults who are fully vaccinated in the country was over 68% Sunday, the latest figures show.
The U.K. joins four other countries and territories added to the CDC’s “Very High” warning list on Monday: the British Virgin Islands, Fiji, Indonesia and Zimbabwe. More than 50 others have been on the list for at least a week — including South Africa, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. Brazil, Costa Rica, the Netherlands and Uruguay have been on the list for months.