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COVID digest: Australia to reopen borders to tourists

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Canberra, Feb 07: Australia will reopen its borders to fully vaccinated tourists from February 21, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday.

"It's almost two years since we took the decision to close the borders to Australia," Morrison said after a meeting of the national security cabinet.

COVID digest: Australia to reopen borders to tourists

"If you're double vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back to Australia," Morrison added.

Australia imposed some of the world's toughest COVID restrictions since the pandemi began, with the country shutting borders down to visitors and barring Australians to leave since March 2020.

But the rules took a toll on Australians who were separated from family, battered the tourism industry, and prompted acrimonious debates over the government's handling of the pandemic.

Slowly, the government relaxed some of the rules, allowing some people, like Australian citizens, international students and skilled migrants to enter the country from November 2021.

The latest decision will see most restrictions lifted and comes after the country abandoned its long-standing zero-COVID policy. The Morrison government instead opted for a 'push through' strategy, ruling out government lockdowns and strict restrictions ahead of federal elections due before May.

Australia recorded 2.4 million cases since the first case of omicron was detected last November. It's once stellar track-and-trace system collapsed under the new wave of cases. Infections did slow last week, with just over 23,000 new infections recorded on Monday, far lower than 150,000 cases recorded around a month ago.

The number of COVID-related deaths in Australia stands at 4,248 since the pandemic began.

Here are the latest major developments on coronavirus from around the world:

Asia

Japan is aiming to speed up the country's COVID-19 booster program to 1 million shots a day by the end of the month, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday. Kishida said he had instructed ministers to work with local government to double the current pace of vaccination. Japan surpassed 100,000 infections on Saturday and 5% of the population have received booster shots so far.

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics saw 24 new COVID cases among staff and personnel on February 6, the Olympics Organizing Committee said on Monday. Some of those cases were among people who had newly arrived at the destination, while others were detected among Beijing's elaborate "bubble" to curb the spread of infections.

Relatedly, Chinese officials Monday locked down nearly 3.5 million residents in the city of Baise in the southern Guangxi region, near the Vietnam border, after more than 70 COVID cases were discovered there. China is the only major economy in the world still sticking to a staunch zero-COVID policy.

More than 17 million Vietnamese students are due to return to school for the first time in nearly a year on Monday. Vietnamese authorities announced plans to vaccinate children above 5 years as well, and said it intends to buy more than 20 million BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines for the age group. 75% of adults have been received at least two shots against coronavirus.

Indonesia temporarily banned the entry of foreign travelers through capital city Jakarta, the Transport Ministry said on Monday. The measure came just days after Bali welcomed the first international flight in nearly two years. Authorities also tightened restrictions in both the capital city as well as the holiday island to slow the spread of COVID infections.

Europe

Germany reported 96,267 new COVID cases and 49 COVID-related deaths on Monday, the Robert Koch Institute said. The total number of cases now stands at 11,117,857 and deaths at 118,766, according to the public health body. On Sunday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach cautioned against relaxing COVID restrictions like other European countries, saying the pandemic was not over yet.

Americas

The mayor of the Canadian capital Ottawa sounded the alarm over truckers' protests and declared a state of emergency on Sunday. Thousands of people descended on the streets of Ottawa to protest COVID-19 restrictions. The protests, initially started by truckers angry with vaccine requirements when crossing the border between the US and Canada, have slowly morphed into broader protests against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's handling of the pandemic.

Source: DW

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