COVID: Japan bars foreign travelers amid omicron fears
Tokyo, Nov 29: Just weeks after loosening some entry rules, Japan will once again ban entry to all foreign arrivals to curb the spread of the omicron variant, officials announced on Monday.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the ban for foreign travelers would take effect on Tuesday. Japanese returnees from 14 countries where the variant has been found will be required to quarantine at designated facilities.
"In order to avoid a worst-case scenario and as an emergency precautionary measure, Japan will first of all ban the entry of foreigners into the country from midnight on Nov. 30," Kishida said at a press conference.
For most of the pandemic, Japan has kept its borders closed to tourists and other foreign travelers. At the beginning of November, the government softened some entry rules to allow visa holders, students and some business travelers into the country.
The emergence of the omicron variant prompted officials to scrap those plans.
The new COVID-19 variant, which was named by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a "variant of concern" on Friday, was first identified in South Africa and has now been confirmed in several of countries in southern Africa, Europe and Asia.
While several countries have implemented travel restrictions and quarantine requirements over the omicron variant, Japan has joined Israel in banning all new foreign arrivals.
Here is a roundup of the latest COVID news from around the world.
The WHO's World Health Assembly is holding a special meeting on Monday to discuss a potential "pandemic treaty." While representatives from the body's 194-member states will discuss how to handle the next pandemic — uncertainties over the omicron variant will likely cast a shadow over the talks.
In a new statement, the WHO said there is "substantial uncertainty" regarding how contagious omicron is or how well current COVID vaccines hold up against the new variant.
Vaccine producers say they need two or three weeks to get a better picture of the variant's numerous mutations.
G7 health ministers are also set to hold emergency talks on Monday to discuss their response to the new COVID variant, as well as travel bans.
The Philippines kicked off an ambitious campaign to vaccinate 9 million people over the next three days. Thousands of volunteers and security forces have been deployed to help roll out the vaccine drive in the archipelago nation. The Philippines has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and its vaccine rollout has been slow compared to its neighbors. Around one third of the country's 110 million population are fully vaccinated.
Malaysia and Singapore moved forward with plans to reopen their land border on Monday. The border, one of the busiest in the world, had been closed for nearly two years. While many were happy to reunite with family and friends, travelers voiced concerns that the omicron variant could once again close the border.
Australia confirmed a third case of the new omicron variant on Monday in a traveler who had recently arrived from South Africa. The first two cases were confirmed in two other travelers from South Africa who were both fully vaccinated and had shown no symptoms. All three people are currently in quarantine. Australian officials are meeting on Monday to consider whether to continue with plans to relax border restrictions later this week.
New Zealand, meanwhile, is pushing ahead with its plans to ease COVID curbs. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said restaurants, bars and gyms in Auckland will reopen as scheduled on Thursday. The city had been under lockdown since August.
South Africa sharply criticized quickly imposed travel bans, saying that the country is being "punished" for detecting and sounding the alarm over the omicron variant.
"Excellent science should be applauded and not punished. The global community needs collaboration and partnerships in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic," the government said in a statement on Sunday.
Switzerland logged its first suspected case of the omicron variant on Monday. The Health Ministry said the suspected case stems from a person who returned to Switzerland from South Africa one week ago. Switzerland has already tightened border controls, requiring travelers from 19 countries to present a negative test and quarantine upon arrival.
Dutch military police detained a couple who tried to flee a hotel where they were in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
The married couple made it to "an airplane that was about to depart" when authorities detained them. The arrests came after officials in the Netherlands said 61 people who flew into the country on Friday had tested positive for COVID — 13 of whom had contracted the omicron variant.
Germany logged a new record-high incidence rate on Monday as the country battles a fourth wave of infections.
The seven-day incidence rate hit a high of 452.4 new infections per 100,000 people per week, Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported on Monday. A week ago, the rate was 386.5 while a month prior the rate was at 64.3.
The RKI also logged 29,364 new cases and 73 deaths in the last 24 hours.