Pandemic travel news: US borders open as more of Europe is rated ‘very high’ risk

(CNN) — After nearly 20 months of closed borders, the US finally opened to vaccinated international visitors on Monday, November 8.

But transatlantic travel remains an ever changing landscape, with this week also seeing more European destinations added to the CDC’s highest risk travel category.

And as European Covid cases continue to climb, one central European country is considering a lockdown for its unvaccinated population.

Here’s what you need to know about pandemic travel this week:

1. The US opened to vaccinated international travelers

The United States opened its borders to vaccinated international travelers after nearly 20 months. CNN spent the day in three US airports talking to travelers and their families about what it’s like to be able to see one another again.

It’s been a long time coming. Almost 20 months since the US banned many international visitors back in March 2020, fully vaccinated travelers from all over the world are finally able to return to the US.

That includes travelers coming from previously banned countries including the UK, as well as EU destinations.

To mark the occasion, Monday morning saw British Airways and Virgin Atlantic join forces to coordinate a historic dual airplane take-off.

The rival transatlantic airlines scheduled two A350 aircraft to depart London Heathrow at the same time, with BA christening its flight BA001, a number usually reserved for the historic Concorde.

Check out our guide to the new US travel rules here.

2. Thanksgiving travel is expected to rebound

Many families are coming together this holiday season for the first time in a long time. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta shares these tips on how to protect your loved ones from getting Covid-19.

For many, the return of international travel to the US means long-awaited family reunions, and some travelers will be timing their trip with Thanksgiving on November 25.

While Thanksgiving 2020 involved hunkering down at home, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts 2021 travel will rebound close to pre-pandemic levels. Some 53.4 million Americans are expected to travel for the holiday — a 13% increase from last year.

Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for airplane tracker company Flight Aware, shared her tips for ensuring holiday travel goes smoothly, including booking flights that depart early in the day to avoid a cascading effect of delays and cancellations, and even booking a back-up flight for extra peace of mind.

3. The Netherlands has moved to the CDC’s highest-risk category

The Netherlands landed in the CDC's highest risk category for travel this week.

The Netherlands landed in the CDC’s highest risk category for travel this week.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

While transatlantic travel might be back on the table, it’s not without its complications.

This week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added two northwestern European countries to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations.

Countries are designated Level 4 if they have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. The CDC recommends people avoid traveling to Level 4 countries, and advises that anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first.

There’s been a surge of cases across Europe recently, which a WHO official said is “of grave concern.”

4. Austria considers implementing a lockdown for unvaccinated people

Austria is days away from ordering millions of unvaccinated people to stay at home, its chancellor has said, in a rare move that underscores the increasing exasperation of European leaders towards those who have not yet been inoculated against Covid-19. CNN’s Scott McLean reports.

Unvaccinated people in Austria are already banned from certain public places, including entertainment venues, restaurants and hairdressers.

According to Johns Hopkins data, 64.3% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated. On Thursday November 11, the Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg called the vaccination rate “shamefully low.”

People walk among Christmas lights on November 12, 2021, near Stephanplatz in Vienna, Austria.

People walk among Christmas lights on November 12, 2021, near Stephanplatz in Vienna, Austria.

Georg Hochmuth/AFP via Getty Images

“A lockdown for the unvaccinated means one cannot leave one’s home unless one is going to work, shopping for essentials, stretching one’s legs — namely exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020,” he said.

Schallenberg is pushing for this measure to be put in place ASAP.

5. Haunting image of coastal erosion wins Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021

This week, the winners of this year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year awards were announced at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.

“I’m very happy. It’s a huge honor to win such an important prize,” Aragón told CNN. “Especially one that’s related to the environment, which is a topic I’ve been working on for several years and which I’m very worried about.”

6. Myanmar plans to reopen to tourists, raising one big question

Myanmar is dealing with the pandemic and the aftereffects of a coup.

Myanmar is dealing with the pandemic and the aftereffects of a coup.

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

The Southeast Asian country of Myanmar plans to welcome back international tourists from early 2022, amid a complex domestic situation.

In addition to navigating the pandemic, Myanmar is also dealing with the aftereffects of a February 2021 coup in which a military junta overthrew the country’s democratically elected government.

“We are planning to reopen tourism for vaccinated tourists if plans are well-prepared for safe and convenient travel,” Zeyar Htun, deputy director of the Public Relations and Information Department at the military-run Ministry of Hotels & Tourism, confirmed to CNN Travel.

The US State Department currently has two Level Four “do not visit” alerts for Burma, as it refers to Myanmar: one for its high number of Covid cases, and one for the ongoing political situation.

7. Some travelers are turning their back on airplanes

Anna Hughes is the director of Flight Free UK, a campaign group that promotes alternative forms of travel beyond aviation.

As the group starts to encourage people to sign a pledge to remain flight free for 2022, there are “two distinct camps” of travelers, according to Hughes.

CNN’s Marnie Hunter, Joseph Ataman, Chris Liakos, Anna Cooban, Chris Isidore, Geneva Sands, Julia Buckley, Forrest Brown, Rob Picheta, Sharon Braithwaite, Tara John, Nadine Schmidt, Lilit Marcus and Jeevan Ravindran contributed reporting