From flight bans to reimposing COVID-19 precautions, how countries are reacting to the Omicron variant

In the week since the new virus strain was reported by South Africa, dozens of countries around the world have responded with travel restrictions — most targeting southern African nations.

FP Staff December 01, 2021 13:24:14 IST
From flight bans to reimposing COVID-19 precautions, how countries are reacting to the Omicron variant

Countries around the world slammed their doors shut again to try to keep the new omicron variant at bay. AP

A new, heavily mutated Covid-19 variant spread across the globe has struck panic among nations as they shut down borders, renew curbs — sparking fears of a new fight against the nearly two-year-old coronavirus pandemic.

The World Health Organization has warned blanket travel bans will not prevent the spread of Omicron, after the first cases of the new COVID-19 strain was detected in Latin America.

In the week since the new virus strain was reported by South Africa, dozens of countries around the world have responded with travel restrictions — most targeting southern African nations.

A long list of countries have already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, where it was first detected, including key travel hub Qatar, the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.

But the virus strain has already slipped through the net, and has now been found everywhere from the Netherlands to Hong Kong and Australia, where authorities last week said they had detected it for the first time in two passengers from southern Africa who were tested after flying into Sydney.

Here's a look at how countries across the global have reacted to the new COVID-19 strain:

 

Austria

Despite the alarm, in Austria tens of thousands rallied to protest against the government's introduction of compulsory vaccination — the first EU country to do so. Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said it was "a minor interference" compared to the alternative for a country with one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe.

Europe

England reacted to the emerging threat by making face coverings mandatory again on public transportation and in stores, banks and hair salons. And one month ahead of Christmas, the head of Britain's Health Security Agency urged people not to socialize if they don’t need to.

With many European nations, including Germany and France, already bringing back curbs to counter surges in infections, Swiss voters broadly backed a proposed Covid pass law in a referendum on Sunday.

In Britain, Health Secretary Avid Javid said new Covid rules will be enforced from Tuesday.

Mask-wearing will again be mandatory in shops and on public transport in England. All passengers arriving in Britain will have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until negative.

United States of America

President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he would decide on a weekly basis whether to extend US travel bans on southern Africa, depending what happens with the worrying new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Asked how long travel restrictions that took effect Monday on South Africa and seven other southern African countries would remain in place, Biden said it "kind of depends."

"We're going to learn a lot more in the next couple weeks about the lethality of this virus, about how much it spreads, what we have to control it, etcetera," he told reporters.

Asked if any expansion of the travel restrictions to other countries could be made suddenly, as happened under former Republican president Donald Trump, Biden said: "Unlike Trump I don't shock our allies."

Israel
Israel announced some of the strictest curbs, closing the borders to all foreigners -- just four weeks after reopening to tourists following a prolonged closure due to Covid.

"We are raising a red flag," Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. Ten million PCR test kits would be ordered to stem the "very dangerous" strain.

Israeli citizens will be required to present a negative PCR test and quarantine for three days if they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and seven days if they have not.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has announced that it will ban non-residents from entering the city from Japan, Portugal and Sweden from Friday, adding to a fast-expanding list of countries facing travel restrictions due to concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Non-Hong Kong residents who have been in the three countries in the past 21 days will not be allowed to enter the global financial hub. Residents can only board flights if fully vaccinated and will have to undergo 21-days of quarantine in a hotel at their own cost.

Philippines

The Philippines has temporarily suspended a decision to allow fully vaccinated tourists entry in a bid to prevent the new, heavily mutated coronavirus variant taking off in the country where most of the population remains unvaccinated.

It comes as the Southeast Asian nation on Monday launched a three-day vaccination drive targeting nine million people as young as 12 in an effort to accelerate the roll-out of jabs. So far, the country has not reported any cases of the Omicron strain.

Australia

The arrival of the new variant comes just a month after Australia lifted a ban on travelling overseas without permission. Australian officials have suspended all inbound and outbound flights to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Zimbabwe for at least 14 days and has banned foreigners with a travel history to these locations within the previous two weeks from entering.

Australia will review its plans to reopen borders to skilled migrants and students from 1 December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, after the country reported its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Canada

Canada announced last week that it is banning the entry of foreign nationals who have traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days after discovery of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus that has stoked world fears and triggered widespread travel bans.

Government ministers also said testing will be mandatory for all Canadians who have travelled to southern Africa in the last 14 days. They will be tested on arrival and must quarantine until they get a negative test result

Those who have arrived in Canada in the last 14 days were also asked to quarantine and get a COVID-19 test.

India

While India hasn’t announced a ban on flights yet, the government has asked all states and union territories to conduct rigorous screening and testing of all international travellers coming from or transiting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.

In a letter to additional chief secretaries or principal secretaries or secretaries (Health) of the states and union territories, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan asked them to ensure that samples of travellers turning positive are sent to the designated IGSLS or genome sequencing laboratories promptly.

Official sources said that the new COVID-19 variant has not been found in India so far.

Italy

In Rome, the government on Friday announced it was banning entry to those who have been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia or Eswatini in the past fortnight.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said scientists were studying the new B.1.1.529 variant, "and in the meantime, we will follow the path of maximum caution".

Singapore

Health officials in Singapore announced that it would restrict arrivals from seven African countries.

All non-Singaporeans and people without permanent residency in the city-state who have recent travel history to the seven countries will be barred from entering or transiting through Singapore, the health ministry said.

The new restrictions, which will take effect from Sunday, apply to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, the ministry said.

Singapore citizens and foreigners holding permanent resident status in the city-state of 5.5 million arriving from those countries can still enter but will have to undergo a 10-day quarantine.

Angola

Angola announced on Saturday that it will close its borders with seven countries in southern Africa in an effort to prevent the spread of the new Omicron variant, according to state media.

It became the first southern African country to suspend all flights from its regional neighbours Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. Its borders will be closed to Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe until 5 January.

Rwanda

Rwanda has barred direct flights to and from nine countries in southern Africa, joining a growing list of nations that have imposed travel restrictions over a new, heavily mutated Covid-19 variant.

Direct flights between Rwanda and southern Africa will be temporarily suspended "effective immediately," Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente announced late Sunday.

 

With inputs from agencies

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