A wary and tired world slams the doors in the face of a new variant


Nations around the world on Monday sought to keep the new omicron variant at bay with travel bans and other restrictions, though it’s unclear what that means for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan has announced that it will suspend the entry of all foreign visitors, while new cases of the variant identified a few days ago by researchers in South Africa appeared as far apart as Hong Kong, Australia and Portugal. Portuguese authorities were investigating whether some of the infections could be among the first reported cases of local transmission of the variant outside of southern Africa.

The flood of new cases has shown the near impossibility of keeping genius in the bottle in a globalized world of travel and open borders.

Yet many have tried to do just that, even against the urging of the World Health Organization, which noted that border closures often have a limited effect but can wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods. . Some have argued that such restrictions could still provide valuable time to analyze the new variant. Little is known about it, especially if it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness, or more apt to escape vaccine protection.

While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticized as slow and haphazard, the reaction to the new variant came quickly.

“This time the world has shown it is learning,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, citing South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for his praise. “South Africa’s analytical work and transparency and the sharing of its findings were essential to enable a rapid global response. It has undoubtedly saved many lives, ”she said.

The WHO also praised South Africa and Botswana for quickly alerting the world to the presence of the new variant – and many have warned that they should not be punished for their speed, especially since we may never know when or where the new version was first cropped. up.

But that did not stop von der Leyen from pushing the European Union of 27 countries to impose an immediate ban on flights from seven countries in southern Africa, like the measures taken by many countries.

Cases had already been reported in Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands, before Portuguese authorities identified 13 cases of omicron among team members at professional football club Belenenses. Authorities reported that a member had recently visited South Africa. His match against Benfica this weekend was abandoned at half-time for lack of players.

Quarantine also became a problem when Dutch military police had to arrest a husband and wife who left a hotel where they were being held after testing positive and boarded a plane bound for the Spain.

“Quarantine is not mandatory, but we assume people will act responsibly,” spokeswoman Petra Faber said.

Taking no risks, Japan, which has yet to detect any cases of omicron, reimposed border controls it relaxed earlier this month for short-term business visitors, students and workers. foreigners.

“We are taking this step as an emergency precautionary measure to avoid a worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said of the measure which begins on Tuesday. Japan has kept its border closed to foreign tourists from all nations.

Israel has decided to ban foreigners from entering and Morocco has announced that it will suspend all inbound flights for two weeks from Monday.

Despite global concern, scientists have warned that it is still not clear whether omicron is more alarming than other versions of a virus that has killed more than 5 million people. And in some parts of the world, the authorities were moving in the opposite direction.

In Malaysia, the authorities have partially reopened a bridge connecting it to the city-state of Singapore. And New Zealand has announced that it will continue its plans to reopen internally after months of closure, although it is also restricting travel from nine countries in southern Africa.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she does not anticipate any further restrictions and that bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland could reopen from Thursday evening, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.

“We have gone through the last two years of COVID in better shape than almost anywhere in the world,” Ardern said, highlighting low death rates, a growing economy and high vaccination rates.

Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, said that there is no data yet to suggest that the new variant causes more serious illness than previous variants of COVID-19.

Collins echoed several pundits saying the news should inspire everyone to redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, boosters and measures like wearing masks.

The United States is banning travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries from Monday. “This will give us a period of time to improve our preparedness,” America’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said of ABC’s “This Week” ban.

Fauci says it will take about two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to a White House statement.


Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.


Follow AP’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic on https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic


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