CDC warns Americans to 'avoid all travel' to Mexico amid COVID surge

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging Americans to avoid all travel to Mexico as cases of COVID-19 continue to surge across the Central American nation.

Within the last two weeks, Mexico has surpassed more than 1.11 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and reported over 105,000 deaths – the fourth highest virus death toll in the world, behind the US, Brazil and India respectively. 

Mexico also has the second-highest case fatality rate per every 100,000 residents of any country in the world at 9.5 percent. Only Yemen, with a fatality rate of 28.3 percent, has fared worse.

However, experts warn the country’s actual case and death tally is likely to be much higher partly because of low testing levels across the nation. 

In light of the troubling virus surge, the CDC posted an update to its website on November 21 raising its travel warning for Mexico up to level 4, its highest designation.

‘Travelers should avoid all travel to Mexico,’ the CDC warned, adding that traveling to the county ‘may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.’

Further, in a Monday statement, the head of the World Health Organization said the country was ‘in bad shape’ in its battle against the virus.

‘The number of increasing cases and deaths in Mexico is very worrisome,’ WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Mexican President Andrés López Obrador has been criticized for often not wearing a mask and while not mentioning names or specific cases. The WHO chief urged the country’s leaders to take the pandemic seriously.

‘We would like to ask Mexico to be very serious,’ Ghebreyesus continued. ‘We have said it in general, wearing a mask is important, hygiene is important and physical distancing is important and we expect leaders to be examples …’

The Mexican government’s pointman on the pandemic, Hugo López-Gatell, said all the comments are valuable but noted the government had already warned that with the arrival of winter the situation would worsen. 

According its latest data, the pandemic has grown in Mexico by 7 percent in the past week.

The warnings from the CDC and WHO come as US airlines bolster their winter schedules with flights to popular beach destinations in Mexico, such as Cancun.

Last month, Mexico was the ‘clear leader’ for US-International air travel, according to Airlines for America (A4A).

Equally, data shared by TripIt, a travel itinerary app, showed that while air travel to Mexico is down overall, ‘the share of US-origin flight reservations to the country have increased 179 percent year-over-year.’

One of the possible attractions to the region is thought to be that Mexico doesn’t require US citizens to present a negative COVID-19 test to enter, unlike fellow beach locales Hawaii and the Caribbean

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As part of their level four warning, the CDC is advising those who still do opt to travel to get tested for COVID between one and three days prior to their scheduled departure.

‘Do not travel if you are waiting for test results, test positive, or are sick,’ the agency said.

The CDC also urged travels to ensure they’re tested within three days of their return back to the US, and stay home seven days after traveling.

‘If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 14 days,’ the agency added.

Despite the warnings, thousands of sun-seekers are expected to flock to Mexico in the winter months ahead.

Among them is Brittany Bamrick, 31, who plans to head to the country in January, after her company bought out a ‘remote’ yoga retreat center in Todos Santos, Mexico, that allows a maximum of 30 guests, she told ABC.

‘I feel that I know the situation I’m getting into and assume the risk,’ she said. ‘It’s an optional retreat, so if anyone wants to cancel, they can, it’s what you feel comfortable with.’

Bamrick said both she and the majority of those attending all reside in San Diego, California.

‘It’s like going into a neighboring state for us,’ she said. ‘It’s a shorter flight than others I’ve taken, so I almost feel better going to Mexico.’

Los Angeles resident Ashley Lewis, 36, told the network she has travelled to Mexico three times since the pandemic began in March.

‘I felt more safe there than I would at a Target or market in Los Angeles,’ she said. ‘The resorts were secluded, they weren’t selling the hotels to 100 percent capacity, and everyone was wearing masks and abiding by the rules. So much in those areas are dependent on tourism, and you could tell they were working incredibly hard to make the guests feel safe.’

She said the CDC’s travel advisory won’t deter her from flying to Mexico a fourth time in January.

‘I feel like I take all the necessary precautions and am smart about the type of things that I do,’ Lewis told ABC. ‘You wouldn’t find me close to a nightclub or anything like that, and so I feel like from what I’ve seen on my trips to Mexico I don’t believe that I’m at any more of a heightened risk.’

Health experts are still warning against all non-essential travel, especially amid the holiday season, as they fear a rise in air travel will result in a sharp surge in cases.

‘People that think they can escape the virus in Mexico are in for a potentially different scenario,’ Dr. Jay Bhatt told ABC.

‘We’re in a time where the pandemic is getting worse, we’re setting records we don’t need to set, and it’s not getting better. If you’re going to a place that has higher prevalence, you’re more likely to be at higher risk for transmission.’

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