International

Omicron: wary world slams doors shut

People waiting to be transported to a quarantine facility after arriving at an airport in Japan.  

Countries around the world slammed their doors shut again to try to keep the new Omicron variant at bay on Monday, even as more cases of the mutant coronavirus emerged and scientists raced to figure out just how dangerous it might be.

Japan announced it would bar entry of all foreign visitors, while new cases of the variant identified days ago by researchers in South Africa appeared in places such as Hong Kong and Australia. New cases in Portugal and Scotland might already point toward local spread of the variant outside of southern Africa.

“There might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said after Scotland reported its first six cases.

The infections showed the near impossibility of keeping the genie in the bottle in a globalised world of travel and open borders. Yet, many tried to do just that, even against the urging of the World Health Organization, which noted that border closings often have limited effect and can wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.

Some argued that such restrictions could provide valuable time to analyse the new variant. Little is known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines.

“This time the world showed it is learning,” said European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, singling out South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for praise. “South Africa’s analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response. It no doubt saved many lives.” The WHO has praised Botswana as well as South Africa for quickly alerting the world to the presence of the new variant — and many have warned the countries should not be punished for their speed.

But that did not hold Ms. von der Leyen back from pushing the 27-nation EU toward imposing an immediate ban on flights from seven southern African nations — similar to measures many countries have taken.

Cases had already been reported in Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands before Portuguese authorities identified 13 cases of Omicron among team members of the Belenenses professional soccer club. Authorities reported that one member recently traveled to South Africa. Its game against Benfica over the weekend had be abandoned at halftime for lack of players.

Taking no chances, Japan, which has yet to detect any Omicron cases, reimposed border controls that it eased earlier this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers.

“We are taking the step as an emergency precaution to prevent a worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. The new measures begin on Tuesday. Israel likewise decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday.


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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 11:49:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/omicron-wary-world-slams-doors-shut/article37758843.ece

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