Politics

Japan expands travel ban to residents abroad; Fiji reopens to tourists


UK

British health secretary Sajid Javid said there were 22 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus in the United Kingdom, and that that figure was set to rise.

Mr Javid added that he expected to know more about the variant within two weeks, as scientists work to understand what impact the new variant will have.

“At this point in time the case numbers are very low,” he told Sky News. “For the UK we’ve got 22 confirmed cases at the moment and that will go up, it will certainly go up.”

France

France has decided to extend until at least Saturday its suspension of flights from southern African countries which have been hit hard by the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus, said French European affairs minister Clément Beaune.

“As of this morning, we have extended the suspension of flights from seven southern African countries until Saturday,” Mr Beaune told RTL radio.

The Omicron Covid variant – first reported in southern Africa and which the World Health Organisation said carries a “very high” risk of infection surges – has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic.

Japan

Japan has expanded its travel ban on foreigners coming into the country, preventing entry to those with resident status from 10 southern African nations, as media reported a second case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus had been found.

On Monday, Japan took some of the strictest steps globally by closing its borders to non-Japanese for about a month in light of the emergence of Omicron. A day later, Japan’s first Omicron case – in a Namibian diplomat – was discovered.

The border closure affecting residents will be in effect from midnight on Wednesday for at least a month and will apply to foreign residents from South Africa, Eswatini, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Angola, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

“From the view of prevention, we won’t just restrict new entry by foreigners but also returning foreigners with resident status, unless there are special extenuating circumstances,” chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference on Wednesday.

“We will maintain a sense of urgency and keep track of the situation in various countries to be able to respond quickly and flexibly.”

Of other passengers on the plane with the Namibian diplomat, he said none of the 70 people designated as close contacts have shown signs of falling ill. Health minister Shigeyuki Goto later said his ministry was in contact with local governments in keeping an eye on these people.

On Wednesday, media reported that another case had been confirmed in Japan, with NHK public television saying it was a foreign man and FNN television saying it was a traveller from Peru.

Japanese border measures were loosened slightly a few weeks ago, but all of those changes have been rolled back in a move generally applauded by the public and accepted by business leaders, although some sectors of the economy dependent on foreign trainees could be hit if the closure is extended.

Fiji

Fiji welcomed back its first tourists in more than 600 days on Wednesday after pushing ahead with reopening plans despite the threat posed by the Omicron variant.

The Pacific nation is famed for its idyllic white-sand beaches and relaxed, welcoming attitude. And it depends on the tourist dollars those features attract.

Fiji’s economy took one of the biggest pandemic-related hits in the world last year, declining by 19 per cent and prompting the government to offer jobless people tools and cash to become farmers.

So it was with a sense of relief that officials greeted the first tourist flight from Sydney. More flights from Australia and the United States are scheduled in the coming days.

Fiji Airways chief executive, Andre Viljoen, said the airline experienced some cancellations in recent days following media coverage of the new variant, but they also had re-bookings and new bookings, resulting in little overall change.

About 64 per cent of Fiji’s population is fully vaccinated and 70 per cent have had at least one dose, according to research from Our World in Data.

Germany

Four people in southern Germany have tested positive for the Omicron Covid-19 variant even though they were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the public health office in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said.

Three of the infected people returned from a business trip to South Africa on November 26th and November 27th respectively, and the fourth person is a family member of one of the returnees, the state public health office said on Tuesday.

“All four people are fully vaccinated. A mutation analysis carried out by the State Health Office has confirmed that all of them are infected with the new variant of concern,” the office said in a statement, adding that all four were in quarantine.

All four showed moderate symptoms.

Malaysia

Malaysia has temporarily banned the entry of travellers from countries that have reported the Omicron Covid-19 variant or are considered high-risk, its health minister said on Wednesday.

The southeast Asian nation joins countries around the world that have limited travel from southern Africa, where the variant, believed to be the most contagious yet, was first detected.

The travel ban applies to eight African countries, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, but could be extended to other nations where the variant has been detected, such as Britain and the Netherlands, health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said.

Malaysia will also delay plans to set up so-called Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) with the affected countries, and reimpose quarantine requirements for Malaysian citizens and long-term residents returning from those nations, regardless of their vaccination status.

“These are just temporary measures until we find out more about the Omicron variant,” Khairy said.

“The moment we believe it is safe, we will lift these measures.”

Malaysia, which has reported more than 2.6 million coronavirus cases, has gradually reopened its borders to travellers in recent weeks as infections have slowed amid a high vaccination rate.

Earlier this week, Malaysia and Singapore launched a two-way joint VTL, reopening their border after nearly two years during the pandemic.

Nigeria

Nigeria confirmed its first cases of the Omicron variant among two travellers who arrived from South Africa last week, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said on Wednesday.

The NCDC also said retrospective sequencing of previously confirmed cases among travellers to Nigeria had identified the variant among a sample collected in October. It did not give details.

“Given the highly likely increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, it is imperative to put in place measures to curb community transmission,” NCDC said in a statement.

The announcement by NCDC comes ahead of a meeting between South African president Cyril Rampahosa and his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja later on Wednesday, where the issue of the Omicron variant is likely to be discussed. – Reuters



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