Air Travelers to U.S. to Face Tougher COVID-19 Testing

U.S. tightens travel rules as more countries secure borders to quell Omicron

Published On: December 1, 2021 06:46 PM NPT By: Reuters

WASHINGTON/TOKYO, Dec 1: Air travellers to the United States will face tougher COVID-19 testing rules and other countries tightened border controls on Wednesday to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant that Nigeria said had been circulating weeks earlier than thought.

Retrospective tests on confirmed COVID-19 infections in travellers to Nigeria had identified the Omnicron variant among a sample collected in October, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control said, without naming the country of origin.

South Africa first reported the variant a week ago and many countries have responded by curbing travel from there and other places deemed most exposed amid uncertainty about how easily the variant can spread and whether it can evade vaccine protection.

Data from other countries already shows the variant was circulating before it was officially identified in South Africa and cases have appeared around the world, with numbers expected to grow. read more Australia said at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said an infected person had taken part in a large concert.

Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant and said it would expand travel curbs.

Hong Kong added Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its travel restrictions while Uzbekistan said it would suspend flights with Hong Kong as well as South Africa. Malaysia temporarily bared travellers from eight African countries and said Britain and the Netherlands could join the list. read more

The World Health Organization (WHO) said "blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods", while advising those unwell, at risk or 60 years and over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.

Global shares came off lows plumbed on Tuesday after remarks by the CEO of Moderna (MRNA.O) raised questions about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron.

Health officials have since offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated, saying it is very likely vaccines will still prevent people getting seriously ill.

"This isn't a call to arms, but a call to get jabs in arms. And quickly," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted as his health minister, Sajid Javid, reported 22 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, a number he said "will certainly go up". read more

European Medicines Agency Executive Director Emer Cooke said laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant. read more

BioNTech's CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer (PFE.N) would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron. The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine rollout for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to Dec 13. read more

Britain and the United States have both expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant, which has highlighted the disparity between massive vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

Some 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures to guard against Omicron as of Nov. 28, the WHO said. read more

WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was concerned that several member states were "introducing blunt, blanket measures", which "will only worsen inequities".


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