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Thailand joins nations banning entry from Africa over Covid Omicron variant

By Reuters   November 27, 2021 | 02:07 am PT
Thailand joins nations banning entry from Africa over Covid Omicron variant
Foreign tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport during the first day of the country's reopening campaign, part of the government's plan to jump start the pandemic-hit tourism sector in Bangkok, Thailand November 1, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha
Thailand said on Saturday it would ban the entry of people traveling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference.

Thailand will not allow travelers from these countries to register to travel to Thailand starting on Saturday, he said.

The announcement comes as the U.S. and other countries in Asia tighten borders over worries about the B 1.1.529 variant. The World Health Organization designated it the latest "variant of concern," saying it may spread more quickly than other forms.

"We have notified airlines and these countries," Opas said adding that travelers from other African countries will not be allowed to use the country's quarantine-free travel scheme for vaccinated travelers.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday the country will tighten border controls for the southern African nations of Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia, requiring a 10-day quarantine for any entrants.

The new rules will take effect from midnight (1500 GMT on Saturday) and come a day after Japan tightened border controls for those arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho.

The U.S. also announced to bar entry to most travelers from the eight southern African countries starting on Monday.

The new variant poses a new challenge for President Joe Biden, who has had a mixed success getting Americans vaccinated after a politically motivated pushback by 10 states. Biden also faces criticism from international health experts and foreign leaders for failing to send vaccines to poorer countries.

The travel restrictions do not ban flights or apply to U.S. citizens and lawful U.S. permanent residents.

No cases of Omicron were identified in the United States to date, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday. The agency expects that it would identify the B.1.1.529 variant quickly, if it emerges in the country.

Countries around the world rushed to suspend travel from southern Africa after the World Health Organization said Omicron was "of concern." Many of those bans kick in immediately, unlike those issued by Biden.

Most non-U.S. citizens who have been in those countries within the prior 14 days will not be allowed into the United States.

Biden made the announcement while spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket.

"As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries," Biden said in a statement.

Sri Lanka said on Saturday it was barring travellers from the six southern African countries on Saturday over concerns about the new Omicron variant.

From Monday, travelers will not be allowed into the country from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Travelers who arrived from these six countries over the past two days will have to undergo mandatory 14 days quarantine.

Australia also imposed new restrictions on Saturday on people who have been to nine southern African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.

Effective immediately, the government will ban non-citizens who have been in those countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from the countries, said Health Minister Greg Hunt.

These restrictions also apply to people such as international students and skilled migrants arriving from countries with which Australia has travel bubbles, who have been in any of the nine countries within the past 14 days.

"If the medical evidence shows that further actions are required, we will not hesitate to take them. And that may involve strengthening or expanding the restrictions," he said.

Anyone who has already arrived in Australia and who has been in any of those countries within the past 14 days must immediately isolate and be tested.

The Australian government will also suspend all flights from the nine southern African countries for two weeks.

Twenty travelers from South Africa are in quarantine in the Northern Territory's Howard Springs facility, 19 of whom have returned negative coronavirus tests. It is not yet known if the one positive test result is the Omicron variant, Hunt said.

The World Health Organization on Friday declared the new coronavirus variant to be "of concern."

It was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Wednesday and has been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

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