Omicron Variant Has Immediate Impact Across Much of Asia
What a difference a week can make! As most western nations are still working through their responses to the discovery of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2, many Asian countries have decided to take more definitive action. Most notable amongst these is Japan’s move to immediately reverse all easing measures enacted last month, closing down its borders, reducing the total arrival cap to a maximum of 3,500 people per day, and taking the exceptional step of banning the return of Japanese nationals and existing foreign residents traveling from the ten African nations most affected by Omicron. In an unprecedented move, Japan has also asked its two flag carriers and all other airlines to block any new inbound flight reservations, effective immediately.
While mainland China has not yet revealed any specific new measures, Chinese authorities did impose sweeping new quarantine policies in Hong Kong, adding 17 countries – including Australia, Japan, and South Korea – to the “High Risk” arrivals group, requiring 21 days of government quarantine with multiple Covid tests administered during that period. Arrivals from this group must spend their first 7 days at the maximum-security quarantine facility at Penny’s Bay. This is where British Airways and Cathay Pacific flight crew members were recently detained, a step which caused BA to temporarily suspend all flights to Chek Lap Kok.
And in a somewhat unexpected move, Australian authorities will delay the planned opening of borders to international travelers by at least two weeks, and ban entry of any visitors from Japan or South Korea until the middle of the month.
In addition to Japan and Australia, new Omicron cases have now been discovered in Hong Kong and the ROK. Most other countries in the region have taken their own steps to limit exposure, some banning all travel from African nations considered to be at higher risk. Like the rest of the world, Asia will be waiting anxiously for another week or two to see how the various Covid vaccines will counteract Omicron infection. From that point, it is possible that more stringent measures will be introduced.
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