Scientists in Africa have detected what’s now known as Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant, in several African countries.
Acting quickly, numerous countries — including the U.S. — imposed restrictions on travelers from South Africa and seven neighboring countries where Omicron cases have already been detected. However, in an attempt to at least buy some time while research is conducted to learn more about the variant, Israel, Japan, and Morocco have closed their borders to all foreign travelers.
Here’s a quick look at each of those three countries’ new travel restrictions.
Israel was the first country to close its borders to non-citizens and impose new restrictions for citizens returning from other countries to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant.
Israel’s coronavirus cabinet approved the new restrictions late Saturday night in a special cabinet meeting. The ministers voted to ban non-citizens from entering Israel for 2 weeks unless they receive special permission from a government panel, The Times of Israel reports. The provision went into effect last Sunday.
The ministers also approved a measure requiring mandatory quarantine for vaccinated Israelis returning to Israel.
Under that provision, vaccinated Israelis must take a COVID-19 test upon landing in Israel and quarantine for 72 hours. Then, on the third day, they must take another COVID-19 test and receive a negative test result before they can leave quarantine.
Unvaccinated citizens must remain in quarantine for at least a week. Then, on the seventh day, they must take a COVID-19 test. If they receive a negative test result, they can then leave isolation.
Israel is in a “period of uncertainty” which is not “a simple or comfortable place to be,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, The Times of Israel reports.
“The key here is caution and minimal risks until we learn more. We want to maintain Israel’s tremendous achievement during the Delta wave — an open and functioning Israel, with a functioning economy, and an active education system with children going to school. That’s the top priority,” Bennett said. “To this end we need to maintain tight control over the country’s borders. Every day, we will learn more and know more.”
Last Sunday, the government of Morocco also took action to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant. Toward that aim, beginning yesterday, the government suspended all incoming air travel from around the world for 2 weeks.
“The decision has been taken because of the quick spread of the new COVID variant, Omicron, namely in Europe and Africa, and to preserve the achievements realized by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic and protect the health of Moroccan citizens,” the Moroccan Foreign Ministry explained, an Al Jazeera article reports.
The Foreign Ministry went on to note that the policy will be evaluated regularly to make “adjustments if necessary.”
Morocco, located in North Africa, has had a high number of COVID-19 cases. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there have been 949,785 COVID-19 cases in Morocco. However, a high number of the kingdom’s eligible population is also vaccinated. Data from Johns Hopkins shows that 62 percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. The Foreign Ministry reports that 66 percent of Morocco’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Japan, as you may recall, has been closed to non-citizens for most of the pandemic – even for last summer’s Olympics. The country reopened its borders to a limited number of foreign travelers 3 weeks ago, but everything has now changed.
Fumio Kishida, Japan’s prime minister, announced yesterday that Japan will take “emergency measures” for at least 1 month to give researchers time to study the Omicron variant and assess the risks it presents.
“This is a preventive, emergency measure to avoid a worst-case scenario,” Kishida said, the Washington Post reports. “This is an extraordinary measure for the time being just until we know more about the Omicron variant.”
Beginning today, Japan’s border will be closed to all non-residents, including business travelers, international students, and foreign workers.
There are new requirements for Japanese citizens and foreign residents as well. For at least 1 month, both citizens and foreign residents living in Japan must quarantine at designated facilities if they return to Japan from a growing list of countries and regions, Kyodo News reports.
The situation with the Omicron variant and countries’ travel restrictions in response to the variant’s detection is changing quickly. Be sure to read all of our Travel News coverage to stay up to date.