Japan, Israel, Morocco Close Borders as New COVID Variant Is Detected

Following the discovery of new coronavirus variant Omicron, several countries have reimposed travel restrictions. According to The New York Times, Japan, Israel and Morocco are all closing to international visitors, while Australia is reportedly delaying its reopening for two weeks.

Japan, which has largely remained closed to international travelers throughout the pandemic, earlier in November opened its borders to short-term business travelers and international students. With the latest announcement, the borders will again close to all visitors, including those business travelers and students.

Similarly, Israel reopened to tourists earlier this month and will again close its borders to visitors. Morocco for two weeks will close its borders to all travelers, including Moroccan citizens.

Countries including the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, along with the European Union have closed their borders to travelers only from southern Africa. Researchers in South Africa were the first to detect the new Omicron variant, but it has since been detected in other countries, including the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Italy, Israel and Botswana. According to the BBC, the South Africa foreign ministry criticized the travel bans, saying, “excellent science should be applauded and not punished.”

On the U.S. imposing travel bans of those from South Africa and seven other African nations, U.S. Travel Association EVP of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes said, "The U.S. Travel Association respectfully urges the Biden administration to revisit the reinstatement of country-specific entry bans in the near term.

“COVID variants are of concern, but closed borders have not prevented their presence in the United States while vaccinations have proven incredibly durable. That is why America’s travel industry is a vocal proponent of everyone getting a vaccine. With a vaccine and testing requirement in place to enter the U.S. we continue to believe that assessing an individual’s risk and health status is the best way to welcome qualified global travelers into the United States.”

The World Health Organization, as of November 28, reports that it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible or causes a more severe illness compared to other variants, including Delta.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to speak on the new variant Monday morning but noted, according to CNN, that it will likely take one to two weeks to know more about the variant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently working on figuring out if the variant is already in the U.S.

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