Japan to reinstate ban on foreign visitors and G7 to meet on new variant of Covid-19
Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, will close its borders to all foreigners, while Australia’s plans to reopen to skilled migrants were also in doubt as countries rushed on Monday to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Markets have regained some composure as investors wait for more details on the variant after a free fall last week after news of its emergence raised fears that further restrictions could upend a nascent economic recovery after a two-year pandemic.
Potentially more contagious than previous variants, Omicron, first identified in South Africa, has been found in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa.
It could take “a few days to several weeks” to understand the level of severity of the variant, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which called it a “variant of concern.”
Japan will close its borders to all foreigners from Tuesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.
“We (are taking action) with a strong sense of crisis,” he told reporters earlier, although no Omicron infection has yet been found in Japan.
Australia must review its plans to reopen from December 1 for skilled migrants and students, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, adding that it was “a little too early” to reinstate the two-week hotel quarantine for foreign travelers.
“So we take it step by step, get the best information, make calm, sensible decisions,” Morrison told broadcaster Nine News.
A national security panel will meet later today to assess the border easing slated for Wednesday, he added, while state and territory leaders are expected to meet.
Morrison called for calm as the severity, transmissibility and resistance to Omicron’s vaccine had not been determined, echoing the WHO’s remarks.
Omicron’s symptoms have so far been mild and could be treated at home, said a South African doctor, one of the first to suspect a different variant.
Countries ranging from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia have imposed travel restrictions on visitors to southern Africa.
Singapore has postponed the start of vaccinated travel routes with countries in the Middle East, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, due to their role as “transport nodes” for affected countries, said his Department of Health.
The wealthy Southeast Asian city-state and neighboring Malaysia have reopened their land border, one of the busiest in the world, allowing vaccinated travelers to cross after a closure that lasted for nearly two years.
Britain has announced it will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday.
In the most ambitious effort against the variant, Israel must ban the entry of foreigners and reintroduce anti-terrorism phone tracking technology, he said.
South Africa denounced the measures as unfair and potentially damaging to the economy, saying it was being punished for its scientific ability to identify variants early.
“The travel ban is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday.
“The only thing (this)… will do is further harm the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond. “
President Joe Biden will provide an update on the variant and the US response on Monday, the White House said in a statement.
It will take about two weeks to get definitive information on the transmissibility and other characteristics of Omicron, Dr.Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, told Biden, he added.
Fauci believes existing vaccines “are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID,” the White House said.
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