The wary and tired world slams doors, fearing the omicron variant


BRUSSELS (AP) – Taking an act now, ask questions later approach, countries around the world once again slammed their doors to try to keep the new omicron variant at bay on Monday as more and more cases mutant coronavirus have appeared and scientists have rushed to figure

BRUSSELS (AP) – Taking an act now, ask questions later approach, countries around the world once again slammed their doors to try to keep the new omicron variant at bay on Monday as more and more people cases of the mutant coronavirus have emerged and scientists have rushed to understand just how dangerous it could be.

Japan has announced that it will ban entry to all foreign visitors, joining Israel in doing so just days after the variant was identified by researchers in South Africa. Morocco has banned all inbound flights. Other countries, including the United States and members of the European Union, have decided to ban travelers from southern Africa.

Travelers infected with the new version have appeared in a cascading number of countries over the past few days, and new cases in Portugal and Scotland have raised concerns that the variant is already spreading locally.

“Many of us might think that we are done with COVID-19. It is not over with us,” warned Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization.

Infections have shown the virtual 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 exhortation of the WHO, which has noted that border closures often have a limited effect and can wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.

Some have argued that such restrictions could 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, targeting South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. “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.

The WHO praised Botswana as well as South Africa for quickly alerting the world to the presence of the new variant – and many have warned countries should not be punished for their speed.

But that didn’t stop von der Leyen from successfully pushing the 27 EU countries to agree on a ban on flights from seven southern African countries over the weekend – similar to the measures taken by many other countries. On Monday, EU members Spain and Poland continued by announcing travel and quarantine restrictions.

Cases had already been reported in EU countries in Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands before Portuguese authorities identified 13 cases of omicron among members of the team of 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 an issue 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.

And after Scotland reported its first six cases, Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned “there may already be community transmission of this variant.”

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 the worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. The new measures begin on Tuesday.

Israel has also decided to ban foreigners from entering, and Morocco has said 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 the 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 said she had planned no further restrictions and that bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland may reopen, 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 to suggest that the new variant causes more serious illness than previous versions as of yet.

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 on ABC’s “This Week”.

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


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


Follow AP’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at

Raf Casert and Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

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