Guam will no longer be on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s travel risk list due to COVID-19, just as the island begins to receive more flights and visitors.
For officials at the Guam Visitors Bureau, Guam is a safe place to visit due to its high COVID-19 vaccination rate, robust testing and treatment, and compliance with mask wear and other mandates. despite the CDC listing.
Hours after GVB’s announcement, three more COVID-19-related deaths were reported, involving unvaccinated people aged 36, 54 and 68, two of whom had underlying health issues.
Since the start of the pandemic, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the United States Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have been included in the CDC’s regularly updated list of travel advisories and are treated as separate foreign destinations from the United States. United States.
That will change effective December 6, GVB vice president Gerry Perez said at the recovery task force meeting on Wednesday.
“If you remember, this is one of the issues that we keep raising… that no matter what our circumstances are, we continue to be labeled as a high risk neighborhood,” Perez said.
At the task force meeting, Perez cited White House associate director for Puerto Rico and the Territories, Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, as a source of information for Guam’s removal from the CDC list.
Perez said the Chicago Department of Public Health had “taken the plunge” by already removing two states and Guam from their weekly COVID-19 travel advisories.
The CDC is not making travel risk recommendations for the 50 states, many of which have lower COVID-19 vaccination rates than Guam and other territories.
“We are 92% fully vaccinated,” Perez said, adding that 21% have received their booster.
Guam’s COVID-19 zone risk score is 0.7, but the CDC still classified it this week as “very high” or “level 4” travel risk.
It’s the CDC’s worst category of travel health advisory, especially with Guam trying to reinvigorate its pandemic-hit tourism industry by getting most of its residents vaccinated and easing travel restrictions for most. travelers.
By the time the CDC reset Guam to its “very high” rating on August 30, Guam’s CAR score was approaching 40 due to the push from the delta variant.
On Wednesday afternoon, Acting Governor Josh Tenorio welcomed Guam’s planned Dec. 6 withdrawal from the CDC’s COVID-19 travel recommendations by destination, which he said means Guam will be considered domestic travel.
“As a US territory, we welcome this news which aligns us with our US counterparts and positions us better to reopen our tourism markets sooner,” he said in a statement.
Five airlines from Korea have either added flights or resumed scheduled flights, while Asiana Airlines will return to Guam on December 23 – 18 years after it stopped flying on the route in 2003, GVB officials said. .
Tenorio said that “not only is Guam ‘where America’s day begins’, but we have always been a leader in this pandemic response, instituting a mandatory travel quarantine, mask warrants and evidence requirements. vaccination earlier than others “.
“We believe this change also recognizes the tremendous progress we have made in recent weeks, tackling the third wave of COVID-19,” he said.
Many of Guam’s tourism-related businesses have reopened, including travel and tour businesses, restaurants, retailers, taxis and other transportation, and tourist attractions.
GVB has also organized another familiarization tour to help promote Guam as a golf destination among Korean travelers, Perez said.
Omicron: New Mitten Cracker
But while Guam is no longer to be labeled as a risky travel destination, Perez has raised concerns about the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“This is a new bogeyman – omicron variant,” he told the task force. “There has been a lot of discussion and a lot of uncertainty associated with this variant, but according to the World Health Organization this variant poses a very high global risk that could lead to outbreaks with serious consequences, whatever that means. “
There is no known or reported presence of the omicron variant in Guam.
But Guam’s main source of tourists before the pandemic – Japan and Korea – have started barring entry of foreign nationals in a bid to avoid the omicron variant.
During the recovery working group meeting, GVB said that a person with the omicron variant was detected upon entering Japan.
International reports have indicated that the omicron variant was detected in a Namibian diplomat in his thirties who landed in Tokyo on Sunday from Namibia. It is one of the African countries where cases of omicron were initially reported.
Perez said the pressure for a full vaccination and booster shots should continue.
“You have to know that 3 billion people in the world are not vaccinated and this is really becoming a reservoir for a lot of viral variants,” he said.