Asia-Pacific wants to live with Covid. Omicron is threatening those reopening plans

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After more than 20 months of strict border controls and restrictions on daily life, many countries in the region began to live and live with COVID, months after their European and North American counterparts fully reopened.

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But it took only a few days to change it.

Scientists in the United States say it will take at least two weeks to learn more about how the variant affects the efficacy of the vaccine and the treatment of COVID-19. As public health experts await data, governments in the Asia-Pacific region are not taking any risks. Many are increasingly acting on concerns that the new Omicron variant could spread in their areas, even in places that already have strict border rules or high vaccination rates.


Experts say this is understandable. But, he says countries may need to adjust their expectations of what living with Covid looks like and improve vaccine equity as the virus becomes endemic.

Research Assistant Professor Renu Singh from Hong Kong said, “Initially, we thought that we live in this black-and-white world in terms of the possibility of living with or without COVID, but with this choice being kind of endemic. going away.” University of Science and Technology, which works on the politics of public health during COVID-19.

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Delay in reopening in some countries of Asia

In one of the strongest reactions for Omicron, Japan Closed its borders to almost all non-citizens, including international students, business travelers and family visitors.

Japan initially asked all airlines to suspend reservations – potentially for Japanese nationals stranded abroad – but later rescinded the request after complaints. According to the foreign ministry, Japanese citizens and foreign residents with a re-entry permit are still allowed to re-enter Japan, although they must meet mandatory government quarantines from some countries.

The new rules came just weeks after Japan opened up, reduced mandatory quarantines for vaccinated business travelers from 10 days to three, and lifted curfews on bars and restaurants in the capital, Tokyo.

And Japan isn’t the only Asia-Pacific country planning to ease restrictions.

Australia – which resumed more than a month after tougher border controls – has delayed plans to allow migrants and international students into the country for two weeks over Omicron concerns. It has also banned visitors from several southern African countries. Apart from this, some state governments are once again required to quarantine international and inter-state travelers.
Travel restrictions by country after Omicron type outbreak

Even countries that relied on tourism and whose economies and people were badly hit as tourism dollars dried up are again shelving plans. For example, the Philippines temporarily suspended its plan to allow fully vaccinated international travelers to enter the country in response to Omicron.

Professor of Pediatrics and Health Policy at Stanford University, Dr. Jason Wang said reopening is a “dynamic process” that may require countries to adjust their policies quickly.

“The pandemic has taught us to balance life and livelihood. It’s like the heart, we need both systole (contracting) and diastole (resting) for the heart to pump. When cases rise rapidly, governments are required to enforce restrictions, but can relax when infection rates go down,” Wang said.

“The goal is to reduce the risk of infectious spread while allowing travel,” he said. “We now have many better tools to fight the pandemic. Travel restrictions are a big gun that should be used temporarily, not in the long run.”

Other wait and see

A Country don’t make big changes Omicron is in the midst of a scuffle China, possibly due to the fact that travel restrictions are already extremely stringent with few foreigners able to enter the country. Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease specialist in Shanghai, said the new version “will not have a major impact on China at this time.”
Singapore, which was one of the first countries in Asia Pacific to announce a blueprint for living with covid Looks like a wait and see approach.
Although the city-state banned all travelers from seven southern African countries, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has compared Singapore’s post-Omicron situation. a game Snakes and Ladders.
Anger boils over Omicron travel restrictions in southern Africa

“If Omicron is more infectious, more harmful and vaccines don’t work well against it, we’ve stepped on the snake class, and we’ll go down, that will take us a long way,” Ong said, adding that if Omicron more contagious, but symptoms are The milky, city-state will “probably take a leap forward in our transition to living with COVID-19.”

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said on 1 December that border restrictions are Singapore’s first line of defence, but city-states cannot rely solely on them, so it focused on increasing vaccine boosters, among other measures. Will do

Thailand, who left the quarantine for a long time and reopened its borders To fully vaccinate international travelers from eligible countries On 1 November, it also said it would not back down from reopening plans – despite banning travelers from several southern African countries.
“No one wants to close another border because it was really difficult for us to reopen the country,” Tourism and Sports Minister Fifat Ratchakitprakarn said. According For Bangkok Post. “Our economy is still in crisis, so unless we are in a very critical situation, there will be no further border sealing.”

what the future holds

Right now, public health expert Singh said countries are in a “fog of war” where there is a lot of uncertainty over the Omicron version and they don’t want to go off guard if vaccines are found to cause or cause serious illness.

“In a pandemic, there’s going to be uncertainty, but kind of propaganda to the extent that you can take an economic hit that you didn’t need is also risky. It’s risky to the economy, it’s people.” It’s too risky to do,” Singh said.

But on the other hand, it is “unwise” to lift ‘Independence Day’ type restrictions, said Associate Professor Jeremy Lim from the Saw Swee Hawk School of Public Health, National University of Singapore (NUS).

“The only way to go through a phased, progressive remission is to very carefully track vaccination and booster rates, especially among at-risk populations, hospital capacity and number of cases.”

This is what South Korea is trying to balance. The country eased restrictions on November 1 with the goal of “recovering in normal life” – but the reopening coincided with a surge in Covid-19 cases and a record number of significant COVID patients.

A medical worker takes a nasal swab from a visitor as part of testing for COVID-19 at a makeshift testing center in Seoul on December 1, amid growing concerns about the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

On Friday, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said South Korea would toughen some of its virus control measures, including limiting gatherings and allowing COVID testing and vaccines to enter restaurants and cafes. More than 83% of the population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 80.5% of the population has been fully vaccinated. South Korean officials also proceeded to impose restrictions on travelers from eight southern African countries.

Kwon Joon-wook, director of South Korea’s National Institutes of Health, told Granthshala that the country is trying to further boost vaccine rates and work on booster shots, as well as a locally manufactured vaccine that can be used for vaccine imports. will reduce the need to rely on

But, he said, patents on mRNA vaccines were holding back progress on the use of domestic vaccines.

“The world can simultaneously build immunity in a short period of time,” Kwon said, by delaying the vaccine patent period for a certain period and mass producing vaccines in countries capable of manufacturing to overcome the crisis.

This is nonsense, Singh said.

“Border control is just one piece,” she said. “If we really want to see the end of these restrictions, and some more certainty, at least what the fluctuations may be, then vaccination is the key. And getting them is important for everyone as well.”

“How do we end this? How can we stop this conversation? I really think it’s about vaccines. I really think it’s about vaccine equity.”

Granthshala’s Paula Hancock and Gawon Bay in Seoul, Junko Ogura in Tokyo and Cheryl Ho and Lizzie Yee in Hong Kong contributed.


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