Japan bans entry of foreign visitors as omicron spreads
Japan announced on Monday that it will suspend the entry of all foreign visitors from around the world as a new variant of the coronavirus spreads, prompting a growing number of countries to tighten their borders.
“We are taking this step as an emergency precautionary measure to avoid the worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. He said the measure would go into effect on Tuesday.
The move means Japan will reinstate border controls it relaxed earlier this month for short-term business visitors, students and foreign workers.
Kishida urged people to continue wearing masks and other basic anti-virus measures until more details on the new variant of omicron are known.
Many countries have decided to tighten their borders even as scientists warn it is not clear whether the new variant is more alarming than other versions of the virus.
The variant was identified a few days ago by researchers in South Africa, and not much is still known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious disease, or more capable of ‘escape the protection of vaccines. But many countries have rushed to act, reflecting anxiety over anything that could prolong the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people.
Israel has decided to ban foreigners from entering and Morocco has said it will suspend all inbound flights for two weeks from Monday – among the most drastic in a growing series of travel restrictions imposed by countries in the world as they scramble to slow the spread of the variant. Scientists from several places – from Hong Kong to Europe to North America – have confirmed its presence. The Netherlands reported 13 cases of omicron on Sunday, and Canada and Australia each found two.
Noting that the variant has already been detected in many countries and that border closures often have a limited effect, the World Health Organization has called for the borders to remain open.
Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, meanwhile pointed out that there is no data yet to suggest that the new variant causes more serious illness than previous variants of COVID-19. .
“I think it’s more contagious when you look at how quickly it has spread to several districts in South Africa. It therefore has the particularity of being particularly susceptible to spread from one person to another. … What we don’t know is if it can compete with Delta, ”Collins said on CNN’s“ State of the Union ”.
Collins echoed several pundits saying the news should inspire everyone to redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, boosters and measures like wearing masks.
“I know, America, you are really tired of hearing these things, but the virus is not tired of us,” Collins said.
The Dutch public health authority has confirmed that 13 people who arrived from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for omicron. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport before a flight ban was implemented. They were immediately placed in isolation, most of them in a nearby hotel.
Canada’s health minister said the country’s first two cases of omicron were found in Ontario after two people who recently traveled from Nigeria tested positive.
Australian authorities said two travelers who arrived in Sydney from Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the new variant. Arrivals from nine African countries are now required to self-quarantine in a hotel upon arrival. Two German states reported a total of three cases in returning travelers over the weekend.
Israel has decided to ban the entry of foreigners and to impose quarantine on all Israelis arriving from abroad.
And Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday that Japan was considering stepping up border controls. Kishida told reporters he plans to announce new measures in addition to the current 10-day quarantine requirement for travelers from South Africa and eight other neighboring countries. Japan still has its border closed to foreign tourists from any country.
Morocco’s foreign ministry tweeted on Sunday that all inbound air travel to the North African country would be suspended to “preserve the achievements made by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic and protect the health of citizens.” Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccinations in Africa and has kept its borders closed for months in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The United States plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other countries in southern Africa from Monday. “This will give us a period of time to improve our preparedness,” America’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said of ABC’s “This Week” ban.
Many countries are introducing such bans, even if they go against the advice of the WHO, which has warned against overreacting before the variant is studied in depth.
Fauci says it will take about two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to a White House statement.
The South African government has reacted angrily to the travel bans, which it says “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and its ability to detect new variants faster.”
The WHO sent a statement saying it “stands by the side of African nations” and noting that travel restrictions may play “a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but placing a heavy burden on the country. life and livelihood “. He said if restrictions are put in place, they should be scientifically sound and non-intrusive.
In Europe, much of which has already struggled with a surge in cases recently, officials were on their toes.
The UK on Saturday tightened mask-wearing and testing rules for international arrivals after finding two cases of omicron, but UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government was far from restoring work from home or more severe social distancing measures.
“We now know that these types of measures come at a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-COVID health outcomes such as the impact on mental health,” he told Sky News.
Spain has announced that it will no longer accept unvaccinated UK visitors from December 1. Italy was reviewing the lists of air passengers who arrived in the past two weeks. France continues to push vaccinations and boosters.
David Hui, respiratory medicine expert and government advisor on the pandemic in Hong Kong, endorsed the strategy.
He said the two people who tested positive for the omicron variant had received the Pfizer vaccine and had very mild symptoms, such as a sore throat.
“The vaccines should work, but their effectiveness would be reduced,” he said.
Moulson reported from Berlin, Collins from Columbia, South Carolina. Zen Soo in Hong Kong, Adam Schreck in Bangkok, and Associated Press editors around the world contributed to this report.