Japan on Monday joined Israel and Morocco in banning all foreign travelers, and Australia postponed the reopening of its borders by two weeks, as other countries closed themselves in response to the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan will reverse its move earlier this month to reopen its borders to short-term business travelers and international students. Japan has been closed to tourists since early in the pandemic, a policy it has maintained even as other wealthy nations reopen to shielded visitors.
The emergence of the Omicron variant in South Africa has left countries around the world scrambling to respond, with some putting in place or considering blanket travel bans, while others have put in place more focused, but also more discriminatory restrictions.
Some countries embarked on their plans to reopen on Monday, such as Singapore and Malaysia, which opened their land borders. On the other hand, South Korea announced that it is delaying any easing of social distancing restrictions.
Across the world, the trend has been towards closure, not opening up, as a series of border closures and travel restrictions are beginning to remember the early days of the pandemic.
Australia said on Monday it would delay its plan to reopen its borders to international students, skilled migrants and travelers from Japan and South Korea by two weeks. The state said it will take advantage of the delay, until December 15, to study whether the Omicron variant is more dangerous than the delta variant.
Israel reopened the vaccination door for tourists just four weeks ago.
Hours after Israel announced the blanket ban at the end of the week, Morocco said on Sunday that it would ban entry to all travelers, even Moroccans, for a period of two weeks starting Monday. The country bans all incoming and outgoing flights during the two-week period.
Japan, Israel and Morocco’s moves stood in contrast to those in places such as the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Union, which have all announced a ban on travelers from South Africa only.
Meanwhile, Indonesia on Monday joined a small but growing list of countries banning travel with Hong Kong as well as the southern African region. Hong Kong detected two cases of Omicron on Thursday, prompting India, Pakistan and other countries to impose travel bans.
The travel ban sparked a wave of resentment among Africans who believed that the continent was once again bearing the brunt of the panic policies of Western countries, which had failed to provide the vaccines and resources needed to manage it.
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In Japan, all foreign travelers except those residing in the country will be denied entry from midnight Monday.
In Israel, all foreign nationals will be denied entry for at least 14 days, except for urgent humanitarian cases that are approved by a special exceptions committee. Returning vaccinated Israelis will be tested upon landing and must be quarantined for three days, pending the results of another PCR test. Unvaccinated Israelis will have to self-quarantine for seven days.
Israelis returning from countries classified as “red”, with a high risk of infection, including most African countries, must enter a quarantine hotel until they receive a negative airport test result, then move to home quarantine (until they get 7 PCR test result days).
Ran Paliser, chair of the panel of experts advising the Israeli government on the response to Covid-19, said the decision was temporary and was made out of wisdom.
Japan has not yet reported any cases of the new type, although it is studying a case involving a traveler from Namibia. Israel has identified at least one confirmed case of Omicron so far – a woman who arrived from Malawi – and tests have provided indications of several possible cases in the country.
Aida Elmi contributed reporting from Morocco, and Muktita Suhartono from Indonesia.