The WHO said on Monday the Omicron coronavirus variant carried a very high risk of infection surges as more countries closed their borders and reported cases of the new strain. The emergence of Omicron has also revived worries about the economic recovery from the two-year pandemic. Battered stocks and oil prices recovered somewhat after a day of panic last week, however, as hopes grew that the variant might prove to be milder than initially feared. The WHO advised its 194 member nations that any surge in infections could have severe consequences, but said no deaths had been linked to the new variant.
Japan on Monday joined Israel and Morocco in barring all foreign travellers, and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks. Japan described its ban on arrivals by foreigners as precautionary. “These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake, until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” PM Fumio Kishida said. Health minister Shigeyuki Goto said tests would determine if a traveller from Namibia was Japan’s first Omicron case. The ban takes effect starting midnight Monday.
In Israel, a ban on arrivals by foreigners took effect overnight. Israel reopened to vaccinated tourists only four weeks ago. Hours after Israel announced its blanket ban over the weekend, Morocco said on Sunday that it would deny entry to all travellers, even Moroccan citizens, for two weeks beginning Monday. The country is banning all incoming and outgoing flights over the two-week period. The moves by Japan, Israel and Morocco stood in contrast to those in places like the US, Britain, Canada and the EU, which have all announced bans on travelers only from southern Africa.
The moves come as more and more countries detect Omicron cases. Scotland reported six cases of the new Omicron variant on Monday, and contact tracing is underway, said Humza Yousaf, the Scottish health secretary. One case of the Omicron variant has also been detected in Sweden, the Public Health Agency said on Monday. The case was detected in a test taken a little over a week ago from a person who had travelled from South Africa, it said in a statement. Spain too reported first case in a 51-year-old man who arrived from South Africa on Sunday after a layover in Amsterdam, Madrid’s regional health authorities said on Monday. The microbiology unit at Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital, which sequenced and confirmed the new variant, added in a separate tweet that the patient was in fair condition with light symptoms.
Britain, meanwhile, reported eight more cases of the variant on Monday. Britain as a whole has reported 11 cases of the new variant. PM Boris Johnson has made mask-wearing compulsory in shops and on public transport in England.
Some countries proceeded with their plans to reopen on Monday, like Singapore and Malaysia, which opened their land border. Australia said on Monday that it would delay by two weeks its plan to reopen its borders to international students, skilled migrants and travellers. The country said it would use the delay, to December 15, to study whether the Omicron variant is more dangerous than the Delta variant. PM Scott Morrison described the delay as “a necessary and temporary decision” based on medical advice. Australia has so far detected five cases of the Omicron variant. A plan to open the border to visitors from Japan and South Korea on December 1 is also now on hold.
Meanwhile, Indonesia on Monday joined a small but growing list of countries to bar travel with Hong Kong as well as the southern African region. Hong Kong detected two cases of Omicron on Thursday.
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