• KYODO, Reuters

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The U.S. State Department on Tuesday eased its advisory that had warned Americans not to travel to Japan, just two weeks after raising the alert to the highest level of four as the country struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Reflecting the latest assessment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the department has returned Japan to level three, indicating a destination to which Americans should "reconsider travel."

On Monday, the CDC updated its criteria used to determine its travel health notice levels "to better differentiate countries with severe outbreak situations from countries with sustained, but controlled, COVID-19 spread."

The CDC said it now views Japan as having a "high level of COVID-19 in the country," rather than a "very high level." The notice urged travelers to be fully vaccinated before heading to Japan.

The latest development came after the United States sent ripples across Japan when the State Department raised its travel advisory to level four on May 24 due to an increase in coronavirus cases, just two months before the start of the Summer Games.

The upgrade by one level at that time was also attributed to the CDC's travel health notice, which had labeled Japan as facing a "very high level of COVID-19."

The CDC's new ratings, posted on a CDC website on Monday, include 61 nations that were lowered from its highest level four rating, the agency confirmed on Tuesday.

The CDC said the new criteria for a level four "avoid all travel" recommendation has changed from 100 cases per 100,000 to 500 cases per 100,000.

An additional 50 countries and territories have been lowered to level two or level one, a CDC spokeswoman said. Countries ranked lowest for COVID-19 risks now include Singapore, Israel, South Korea, Iceland, Belize and Albania.

Among those now listed at level three are France, Ecuador, the Philippines, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, Honduras, Hungary and Italy.

The U.S. State Department said it had updated its recommendations to reflect the recent methodology update, but noted not all ratings were revised because of other factors including "commercial flight availability, restrictions on U.S. citizen entry, and impediments to obtaining COVID test results within three calendar days."

The State Department eased its ratings on 85 countries and territories, including Japan.

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