U.S. tightens travel rules as more countries secure borders to quell Omicron

Passengers line up inside the terminal at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, United States on November 24, 2021. REUTERS / Eduardo Munoz / File Photo

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  • Air travelers to the United States face more stringent COVID-19 tests
  • Sydney braces for more cases, no lockdown at this time
  • Japan extends travel ban to certain foreigners with resident status
  • WHO warns of blanket travel bans on Omicron
  • South Korea records daily record of over 5,000 COVID-19 cases

WASHINGTON / TOKYO, December 1 (Reuters) – Air travelers to the United States will face stricter COVID-19 testing rules, as more countries have tightened borders amid uncertainty over the virulence of the Omicron variant and its ability to evade vaccine protection.

Japan and Hong Kong have said they will expand travel restrictions, and Malaysia has temporarily banned travelers from countries deemed to be at risk. Japan, which had previously banned all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant on Wednesday.

Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said at least two people visited several places in Sydney when they were likely infectious and Denmark said one infected person participated in a big concert.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has said “blanket travel bans will not prevent international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” while advising sick people , at risk or aged 60 or over and unvaccinated to postpone their trip.

Investors remained nervous on Wednesday, even as financial markets hit lows the day before following remarks from the CEO of Moderna (MRNA.O) which raised questions about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron .

Global health officials have since reassured and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.

“Our best form of defense is our vaccines,” UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News.

“It’s possible of course, it’s possible that it will be less effective. We don’t know for sure yet. But it’s also very likely that it will remain effective against serious illnesses,” he said. Read more

The executive director of the European Medicines Agency, Emer Cooke, said earlier that laboratory tests should indicate over the next two weeks whether the blood of those vaccinated contains enough antibodies to neutralize the new variant. Read more

The European Union has brought forward by one week to December 13 the start of the deployment of its vaccine for children aged 5 to 11.

The CEO of BioNTech said the vaccine he is making in partnership with Pfizer (PFE.N) would likely offer strong protection against serious illnesses from Omicron. Read more

Britain and the United States have both expanded their recall programs in response to the new variant.

First reported in southern Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between massive vaccination campaigns in rich countries and patchy inoculation in the developing world.

It has spread to more than a dozen countries, with Nigeria among the latest to report cases of the variant. Saudi Arabia has confirmed its first case from a North African country.

Some 56 countries are said to have implemented travel measures to guard against Omicron as of November 28, the WHO said. Read more

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he feared several member states “introduce brutal and general measures”, which “will only worsen inequalities”.

“The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’, due to the number of mutations that could help it to spread or escape antibodies from a previous infection or vaccination.

BORDER CONTROLS

The United States is preparing to require all air travelers entering the country to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of their departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday. Read more

Currently, international travelers who have been vaccinated may show a negative result within three days of their point of departure. The new one-day test requirement would apply to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals.

The administration is also considering requiring travelers to undergo another test within three to five days of arrival, officials said.

The CDC lists about 80 foreign destinations as having a “level four,” its highest level of COVID-19 transmission, and discourages Americans from traveling to these destinations.

In Asia, Japan has announced that it will extend its entry ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries.

Read more

Hong Kong will extend its entry ban for non-residents to three other countries, Japan, Portugal and Sweden, from Friday.

South Korea’s Home and Security Minister Jeon Hae-cheol called for tougher virus prevention measures to prevent Omicron, after suspected cases entered from Nigeria. The country has not detected any confirmed cases of Omicron so far.

Malaysia has temporarily banned travelers from countries that have reported cases of Omicron. Read more

Global airlines are bracing for further volatility, analysts say. Japanese airlines ANA and JAL said they were suspending new bookings of international flights to the country until the end of December. Read more

“It’s kind of like we’re back to where we were a year ago and it’s not a good prospect for the industry and beyond,” said Deidre Fulton, partner at MIDAS consultancy. Aviation, during an industry webinar.

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Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Sakura Murakami and Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Reju Jose and Jamie Freed in Sydney and the Reuters offices; Written by Himani Sarkar and Philippa Fletcher; Edited by Shri Navratnam, William Maclean

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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