BRAZIL reported the first cases in Latin America of Omicron, which has pushed dozens of countries to impose travel restrictions — mostly targeting southern African nations.
And while the likely futility of such broad curbs was underscored by Dutch authorities reporting that Omicron was present in the country before South Africa reported its first cases on 25 November governments pressed ahead with emergency travel measures.
“We have asked airlines to halt accepting all new incoming flight reservations for one month starting 1 December” a Japanese transport ministry official told AFP, adding that existing bookings would not be affected.
First Omicron case
Japan confirmed its first Omicron case on Tuesday, and it had already tightened its tough Covid border measures.
Japanese authorities on Wednesday announced they had detected a second infection of the new strain in an arriving traveller — this time in a person arriving from Peru.
Governments elsewhere in Asia also continued to expand curbs Wednesday, with Indonesia adding Hong Kong and Malaysia listing Malawi on their travel ban lists.
Hong Kong placed Japan, Portugal and Sweden on its highest travel restriction category after the discovery of Omicron there.
These came despite the WHO saying Tuesday that such “blanket” moves risked doing more harm than good.
In a travel advisory, it warned the bans could ultimately dissuade countries from sharing data about the evolving virus.
But it did advise unvaccinated people vulnerable to Covid-19, including over-60s, to avoid travel to areas with community transmission of the virus.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was understandable for countries to seek to protect their citizens “against a variant we don’t yet fully understand”. But he called for “rational, proportional risk-reduction measures”.
So far, well over a dozen countries and territories have detected Omicron cases, including Australia, Britain, Canada, Israel, Italy and Portugal.
Latin America reported its first two cases of the variant Tuesday — in people who travelled from South Africa to Brazil.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, also reported its first Omicron cases on Wednesday.
The same day, Canada banned travellers from Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt.
President Joe Biden said the US travel bans on just the southern African nations would stay in place, without referencing the other places where Omicron has been detected.
Asked how long travel restrictions that took effect Monday on South Africa and seven other southern African countries would remain, Biden said it “kind of depends”.
“We’re going to learn a lot more in the next couple weeks about the lethality of this virus, about how much it spreads, what we have to control it, etcetera,” he told reporters.
Asked if any expansion of the travel restrictions to other countries could be made suddenly, as happened under former president Donald Trump, Biden said: “Unlike Trump I don’t shock our allies.”
The WHO believes the high number of mutations on this variant may make it more transmissible or resistant to vaccines, but it could take weeks to determine whether and to what extent Omicron is vaccine-resistant.
Its detection and spread, however, have highlighted that the global fight against Covid-19 is far from over. SOURCE: AFP