Japan joined Israel and Morocco on Monday in sealing its borders to all foreign travelers in response to the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan would reverse its decision earlier this month to reopen its borders to short-term business travelers and international students. Japan has been closed to tourists since the start of the pandemic, a policy it has maintained even as other wealthy countries have reopened to vaccinated visitors.
The emergence of the Omicron variant in southern Africa has prompted countries around the world to scramble to respond, with some instituting or considering sweeping travel bans, while others have put in place more targeted border bans, but also more discriminatory.
Just four weeks ago, Israel completely reopened its doors to vaccinated tourists after banning foreign visitors at the start of the pandemic. But at midnight between Sunday and Monday, its borders should again be closed to foreigners.
Hours after Israel announced its blanket ban over the weekend, Morocco said on Sunday it would deny entry to all travelers, even Moroccan citizens, for two weeks from Monday. The country bans all inbound and outbound flights during the two week period.
The actions taken by Japan, Israel and Morocco contrasted with those of places like the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Union, which have all announced the ban on travelers from Africa. southern.
The bans sparked resentment among Africans who believed the continent was once again under the brunt of panicked policies from Western countries, which had failed to provide the vaccines and resources to administer them.
In Japan, all foreign travelers except those residing in the country will be banned from entry from Monday at midnight.
In Israel, all foreign nationals will be barred from entry for at least 14 days, except for urgent humanitarian cases to be approved by a special exceptions committee. Returning vaccinated Israelis will be tested upon landing and must self-quarantine for three days, pending the results of another PCR test. Unvaccinated Israelis will have to self-quarantine for seven days.
Israelis returning from countries classified as “red,” at high risk of infection, including most African countries, must enter a quarantine hotel until they test negative at the airport , then be transferred to home quarantine (until they get 7 days). PCR test result).
Ran Balicer, the chairman of an expert group advising the Israeli government on the response to Covid-19, said the decision was temporary and was taken out of caution because most countries are unlikely to yet be able to detect the variant.
Japan has yet to report any cases of the new variant, although it is investigating a case involving a traveler from Namibia. So far, Israel has identified at least one confirmed case of Omicron – a woman who arrived from Malawi – and tests have provided clues to several more likely cases in the country.
Israel only recently emerged from a fourth wave of the virus, when it recorded one of the world’s highest daily case rates of the Delta strain. Officials attributed the containment of this outbreak to a rapid rollout of booster injections that began in August, after Israeli scientists detected decreased immunity in people five or six months after receiving their second injection. from Pfizer.
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In an effort to anticipate the next crisis, the Israeli government this month hosted an exercise codenamed “Omega” to test nationwide preparations for the emergence of a deadly new variant of Covid.
Israel’s policy against Covid is now to try to keep the economy completely open and avoid internal blockages, while strictly controlling borders.
But the reimposed entry restrictions abruptly upset the vacation plans of foreign tourists. Esther Block of London has been waiting almost two years to visit lifelong friends in Israel, one of whom is now 87. “We were due to come when Israel was first locked down,” Ms. Block, 57, said. “And we have been postponing since. “
Ms Block is vaccinated, was due to be boosted next week and also recovered from Covid about four weeks ago. Her teenage son was planning to have a second injection next week, so the family had started planning a trip to Israel during the December vacation.
“Now I don’t know when I can come,” Ms. Block said. “I feel pretty drained. But I actually think we should all do what Israel is doing, ”she added. “It seems reasonable to be careful, even if it’s incredibly frustrating.”
Aida Alami contributed reporting from Morocco.