Japan to bar foreign visitors after Omicron threat

Japan has announced it will reinstate tough border controls and bar all foreign arrivals because of the fast-moving Omicron coronavirus variant just weeks after a softening of strict entry rules.

Japan is the latest country to impose stricter border restrictions to limit the spread of the new coronavirus strain, which scientists say has a high number of mutations, potentially making its spread much faster.The World Health Organization (WHO) warned against countries hastily imposing travel curbs. However, bans have been introduced in recent days, with the United Kingdom, European Union, and the United States among those to impose travel restrictions on arrivals from mostly Southern African nations.The World Health Organization (WHO) warned against countries hastily imposing travel curbs. However, bans have been introduced in recent days, with the United Kingdom, European Union, and the United States among those to impose travel restrictions on arrivals from mostly Southern African nations.

South Africa preparing health facilities to cope with Omicron variant

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla told a news conference on Monday that the government was doing everything possible to prepare its health facilities to cope with the newly identified Omicron variant.

Phaahla said scientists were working to establish whether the variant was more transmissible and the extent to which vaccines can protect against severe illness.

He added that officials were engaging with countries that imposed travel restrictions on southern African countries to try to get them to reverse them.

South African epidemiologist Abdool Karim also said on Monday that not enough data had been collected to determine the clinical implications of the Omicron variant compared to previous ones.

He said re-infections were likely but that vaccinated people had less probability of developing serious symptoms.

WHO says Omicron poses “very high” global risk, countries must prepare

The Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally and could have “severe consequences” in some areas, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday.

In technical advice to its 194 member states, the UN health agency urged them to accelerate the vaccination of high-priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.

“The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high,” the WHO said.

Further research is needed to better understand Omicron’s potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections. More data is expected in coming weeks.

Six cases of Omicron variant identified in Scotland

Six cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant have been identified in Scotland, the Scottish government said on Monday, adding that public health officials were working to establish the circumstances.

“Public Health Scotland will undertake enhanced contact tracing in all cases,” Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said.

Britain to unveil new booster guidance as Omicron variant spreads

Britain is set to unveil new guidance on extending the rollout of COVID-19 booster shots to the under-40s on Monday, in light of the rapid rise in cases of the variant of concern Omicron.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has restricted travel to southern Africa, tightened testing rules and made mask-wearing compulsory in shops and on transport in response to Omicron.

He also asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to urgently review boosters for under-40s, as well as look at reducing the gap between second doses and boosters.

Dr Angelique Coetzee: Omicron causing “very mild symptoms” in people who are vaccinated

Dr Angelique Coetzee, who first who first spotted the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, said that so far people infected with the Omicron variant are having “very mild symptoms”, especially those who received the inoculation after August.Coetzee, of the South African Medical Association, said Omicron had raised concerns due to its more than 30 mutations, which might hinder vaccine effectiveness.

Dutch police arrest couple attempting to flee quarantine for Spain

Dutch police have arrested a married couple attempting to flee the country after testing positive for COVID-19.

They were arrested “in an airplane that was about to depart,” the military police, known as the Marechausse, said in a statement.

The Spanish man and Portuguese woman had left a hotel where they were in quarantine and were trying to fly to Spain.

Dozens of passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday are being kept in quarantine at a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

Singapore, Malaysia reopen land border amid worries over the Omicron variant

Singapore and Malaysia have reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders on Monday, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Travellers were reunited with family and friends, amid concerns that the border might be closed again due to the new Omicron coronavirus variant.Under the latest arrangement, up to 1,440 travellers from either side can cross the land border per day without quarantine, if they hold citizenship, permanent residency or long-term visas in the destination country.

Travel requirements include testing negative for COVID-19 before departure and an on-arrival test.

Malaysia’s health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said one traveller had tested positive to a rapid antigen test, noting some COVID-19 cases were inevitable.

“What’s important is our diagnostic capabilities and requirements, and the risk assessment steps to be taken when something like this happens,” he said.

Singapore blocks Middle East airlines

Singapore has deferred the start of vaccinated travel lanes with Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in view of their role as “transport nodes” for affected countries, its health ministry says.

US scientist Fauci defends travel ban on African countries

The top US infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, defended the travel restrictions imposed by the Biden administration in response to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The US plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other Southern African countries starting Monday. Fauci stressed the purpose of any travel ban was to buy time to ramp up preparedness, urging not to let the measure “go without a positive effect”.

First suspected case of Omicron detected in Switzerland

Switzerland’s first probable case of the Omicron variant has been detected, as the country tightens its entry restrictions to check its spread.

The case relates to a person who returned to Switzerland from South Africa a week ago, the Federal Office for Public Health said on Twitter. Testing will clarify the situation in the coming days, it added.

Switzerland has ordered travellers from 19 countries must present a negative test when boarding a flight to the country, and must go into quarantine for 10 days on arrival. The list includes Australia, Denmark, Britain, the Czech Republic, South Africa and Israel.

New variant not stopping New Zealand reopening

The emergence of the Omicron variant has not changed New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland and move the nation into a new, more open phase of its pandemic response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen from late Thursday, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.

Around the country, a new “traffic light” system will bring an end to lockdowns, but people will need to be fully vaccinated in order to guarantee participation in anything from getting a haircut to watching a concert.

Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over virus variant

Japan says it would bar entry to foreigners to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, joining Israel in the strictest border measures yet since the variant’s discovery.

Tokyo already announced it would require travellers permitted to enter Japan from six Southern African countries to quarantine in government-designated facilities for 10 days on arrival.

Japan’s borders have been almost entirely shut to new overseas visitors for most of the pandemic, with even foreign residents at one point unable to enter the country.

No Omicron cases have been detected in the country so far. One traveller from Namibia was found to be positive for the coronavirus, and further tests were being conducted to find out if it was from the new variant, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said.

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