Countries tighten travel rules to try to slow Omicron spread

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Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Norway, Ghana confirm first cases of new Omicron COVID-19 variant as countries tighten travel rules.

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The United States, Japan and Malaysia have announced strict travel restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant as more countries confirmed their first cases.

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Japan and Hong Kong said on Wednesday they would extend travel restrictions and Malaysia temporarily banned travelers from at-risk countries.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions, while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights to Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Japan, which had already banned all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

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Malaysia temporarily banned travelers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list.

In North America, air travelers to the US faced tougher COVID-19 testing rules.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late Tuesday that the US will require all air travelers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test within a day of departure.

Currently, vaccinated international passengers can submit a negative result received within three days from their place of departure. The new one-day testing requirement will apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

global spread

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry said it recorded the Gulf’s first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in a citizen returning from North Africa.

Nigeria said it had confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant in travelers from South Africa last week. Ghana and Norway also reported their first cases of the new variant on Wednesday.

Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa said late Tuesday that two Brazilians had tested positive for the Omicron strain, the first case reported in Latin America. A passenger who had arrived in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not traveled, had tested positive.

Germany, which is grappling with a surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths, reported that four fully vaccinated people had tested positive for Omicron in the south of the country but had moderate symptoms.

It reported the highest number of coronavirus deaths since mid-February on Wednesday, as hospitals warned the country could have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, up from the peak of last winter.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people had visited multiple venues in Sydney while potentially infectious and Denmark said an infected person had attended a large concert.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel restrictions will not stop the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, frail or 60 years or older and suspend travel. Huh.

A Saudi man receives a dose of the vaccine for the coronavirus disease in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia [File: Ahmed Yosri/Reuters]

Expansion of Vaccine Programs

Global health officials have offered reassurance and repeated calls to people to get vaccinated.

The BioNTech CEO said the vaccine it makes in partnership with Pfizer will provide stronger protection against serious disease than Omicron.

Emir Cook, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said earlier that laboratory analyzes should indicate in the next few weeks whether vaccinated people had enough antibodies to neutralize the new variant in their blood.

The European Union has extended the start of its vaccine delivery program for children aged five to 11 years from one week to 13 December.

The UK, US and European countries have expanded their booster programs in response to the new version.

First reported in South Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between the substantial vaccination push in affluent countries and sparse vaccination in the developing world.

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