TOKYO (NWN) – Japan announced on Monday that it would suspend the entry of all foreign visitors from around the world as a new coronavirus variant spreads, prompting a growing number of countries to tighten their borders.
“We are taking measures as an emergency precaution to prevent the worst in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. He said the measure would be effective from Tuesday.
The decision means Japan will restore border controls that it eased earlier this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers.
Kishida urged people to continue wearing masks and other basic anti-virus measures until more information is known about the new Omicron version.
Several countries have moved to tighten their borders, even as scientists warn that it is unclear whether the new version is more dangerous than other versions of the virus.
The variant was identified a few days ago by researchers in South Africa, and much is still not known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness, or is more likely to cause vaccines. more capable of evading security. But many countries rushed to act, reflecting concerns about anything that could prolong the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people.
Israel decided to bar the entry of foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday – amid a growing raft of travel restrictions being imposed by countries around the world. As harshest as they are they scramble to slow the spread of the variant. Scientists from many places from Hong Kong to Europe to North America have confirmed its presence. The Netherlands reported 13 omicron cases on Sunday, and Canada and Australia each got two.
Noting that the variant has already been detected in many countries and that closing borders often has limited effect, the World Health Organization called for borders to remain open.
Meanwhile, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, emphasized that there is no data yet to suggest that the new variant causes more severe disease than previous COVID-19 variants. .
“I think it’s more contagious when you look at how fast it’s spread in many districts of South Africa. So it’s particularly likely to spread from person to person. … we don’t know whether it can compete with Delta,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Collins echoed several experts in saying the news should redouble their efforts to use the equipment the world already has, including measures such as vaccinations, booster shots and wearing masks.
“I know, America, you’re really tired of hearing those things, but the virus isn’t getting tired of us,” Collins said.
The Dutch public health authority confirmed on Friday that 13 people who arrived from South Africa 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’s Schiphol airport before the flight ban came into force. He was immediately isolated, mostly in a nearby hotel.
Canada’s health minister says the country’s first two cases of omicron were found in Ontario, after two individuals who had recently traveled from Nigeria tested positive.
Authorities in Australia said two passengers 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 quarantine in a hotel upon arrival. Two German states reported a total of three cases in return of travelers over the weekend.
Israel moved to ban entry by foreigners and to impose mandatory quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.
And Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday that Japan was considering increasing border controls. Kishida told reporters he planned to announce new measures in addition to the existing 10-day quarantine requirement for travelers from South Africa and eight other surrounding countries. The border with Japan is still closed to foreign tourists from any country.
Morocco’s foreign ministry tweeted on Sunday that all incoming air travel into 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 vaccination in Africa, and closed its borders for months in 2020 because of the pandemic.
The US is planning to ban travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries from Monday. The United States’ top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said of the ban on ABC’s “This Week,” “It’s going to give us time to step up our preparedness.”
Many countries are imposing such restrictions, although they go against the advice of the WHO, which has warned against any exaggeration before the version is fully studied.
According to a White House statement, Fauci says it will take about two weeks to get more definitive information about transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of Omicron.
South Africa’s government reacted angrily to the travel restrictions, which amounted to “punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and ability to rapidly detect new variants.”
The WHO issued a statement saying it “stands with African countries” and noting that travel restrictions “may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19, but could put a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”. ” It said that if sanctions are imposed, they should be scientifically based and not intrusive.
In Europe, much of which is already struggling with a recent sharp rise in cases, officials were cautious.
The UK on Saturday tightened rules on the wearing of masks and testing international arrivals after two micron cases were detected, but British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government could resume work from home or take more serious social-distancing measures. was nowhere near.
“We now know that in terms of non-COVID health outcomes, such as the impact on mental health, those types of measures have a very heavy cost, economically, socially,” he told Sky News.
Spain announced it would not accept unvaccinated British visitors from 1 December. Italy was looking at the list of airline passengers arriving in the past two weeks. France is rolling out vaccinations and booster shots.
David Hui, a respiratory medicine specialist and government adviser on the pandemic in Hong Kong, agreed with that strategy.
He said the two people who tested positive for the Omicron variant had received the Pfizer vaccine and displayed very mild symptoms such as a sore throat.
“The vaccines should work but there will be some reduction in effectiveness,” he said.
Moulson reported from Berlin, Collins reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Zen Soo in Hong Kong, Adam Schreck in Bangkok and Associated Press writers from around the world contributed to this report.
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