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Restrictions increase in the world against omicron variant

TOKYO (AP) – Japan announced Monday that it will suspend the entry of all foreign visitors from around the world as a new variant of coronavirus spreads, causing many countries to tighten their border controls.

“We are taking the step as an emergency precaution to prevent the worst case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. He added that the measure takes effect on Tuesday.

The decision means that Japan will restore the border controls it had lifted this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers.

Kishida called on people to continue using masks and other basic anti-virus measures until more details of the omicron variant are known.

Many countries have taken steps to strengthen their border controls, although scientists say it is not yet clear whether it is more alarming than other versions of the virus.

The Netherlands confirmed 13 cases of the new variant on Sunday, while Canada and Australia found two, the most recent countries to detect it in travelers arriving from southern Africa.

Nations around the world are imposing restrictions to curb the spread of the variant. Israel decided on Sunday to ban foreign nationals, the most radical measure yet, and Morocco suspended all air arrivals for two weeks.

Confirmed or suspected cases of the new variant have already emerged in several European countries, in Israel and Hong Kong, just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa. The “act first, ask later” approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant almost two years after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, disrupted lives and economies around the world.

While much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to vaccines and could mean that the pandemic will last longer than anticipated.

In the Netherlands, health authorities confirmed that so far 13 people who arrived on flights from South Africa on Friday have tested positive for omicron. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus on Friday after arriving on the last two flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport before a flight ban was put in place for southern African countries. They were immediately isolated, most at a nearby hotel, while sequencing was taking place.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said he has asked his country’s public health institute council whether additional travel restrictions are needed, but said he wants to coordinate with his European Union counterparts because “I think those are really the steps that we will have to take together ”.

Australian authorities said two foreign travelers arriving in Sydney from Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the omicron variant. Now those arriving from nine African countries must quarantine themselves in a hotel upon arrival.

Canada’s Health Ministry said the first two cases of the omicron variant were found in the country in Ontario, after two people who had recently traveled to Nigeria tested positive.

Germany reported three cases over the weekend.

Israel took steps to ban the entry of foreigners and require quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.

“Restrictions on the country’s borders is not an easy step, but it is a temporary and necessary step,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Many countries have restricted or banned travel from various southern African countries, most recently Morocco, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Saudi Arabia. Places that had already imposed restrictions include Brazil, Canada, the EU, Iran and the United States. This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO), which warned against any overreaction before the variant is fully studied.

The South African government responded angrily to the travel bans, which it said are “similar to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants faster.” He said he will try to persuade the countries that imposed the restrictions to reconsider.

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