Israel and Morocco ban all foreign travelers in response to Omigran variation

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Japan on Monday sealed its borders with Israel and Morocco to all foreign travelers in response to the new Omigran variant of the corona virus.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said earlier this month that Japan would make a move to reopen its borders to short-term business travelers and international students. Japan has been closed to tourists since the onset of the epidemic, and it has been maintained even as other rich countries have reopened to vaccinated visitors.

The emergence of the Omigran variant in South Africa is chasing countries around the world to respond, with some establishing or considering travel barriers, while others are more focused, but have more discriminatory, border barriers.

Just four weeks ago, after a ban on foreign visitors at the onset of the epidemic, Israel fully reopened to vaccinated tourists. But between midnight on Sunday and Monday, its borders were expected to close again to foreigners.

Hours after Israel announced its blanket ban over the weekend, Morocco announced on Sunday that it would refuse entry to all travelers, even Moroccan citizens, for the first two weeks from Monday. The country bans all incoming and outgoing flights for a period of two weeks.

The moves in Japan, Israel and Morocco were in stark contrast to those in places like the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Union, all of which have announced restrictions on travelers from South Africa alone.

Indonesia, meanwhile, joined Hong Kong and the South African region on Monday in a small but growing list of countries blocking travel. Hong Kong on Thursday uncovered two Omicron cases, prompting travel bans to India, Pakistan and other countries.

Those sanctions have provoked a wave of hatred among Africans, who believe the continent is once again carrying the burden of panicked Western policies that failed to provide the vaccines and the resources needed to administer them.

In Japan, all foreign travelers except nationals will be barred from entering the country from midnight on Monday.

In Israel, all foreigners are barred from entering for at least 14 days, except for emergency humanitarian cases that must be approved by a special exception panel. Vaccinated Israelis will be tested as soon as they land and must be self-isolated for three days, with the results of another PCR test pending. Unvaccinated Israelis must be self-isolated for seven days.

Israelis returning from countries classified as “red”, including most African countries, who are at high risk of infection, must enter an isolated hotel until they receive a negative result at an airport test and then be transferred to home isolation (up to 7 days after the PCR test).

Run Poliser, chairman of the expert panel advising the Israeli government on the Govt-19 response, said the decision was temporary and had been made prudently as most countries still did not have the capacity to detect differences.

Japan has not yet reported any cases of the new variant, although it is investigating a case involving a Namibian traveler. A woman from Malawi a confirmed case of Omigran has so far been identified by Israel and the trial has given indications that there are still many cases in the country.

Israel recently emerged from the fourth wave of the virus, one of the highest daily cases in the world since the Delta strain. Officials say the rapid release of booster shots, which began in August, was controlled by Israeli scientists five or six months after receiving the second Pfizer shot, after Israeli scientists found that the immune system was weakening.

In an effort to tackle the next crisis, the Israeli government launched a training code called “Omega” this month to test nationwide preparations for the eruption of the new, deadly Govt variant.

Israel’s Govt policy now strictly controls borders, while trying to keep the economy fully open and avoid internal locks.

But re-imposed entry restrictions have abruptly boosted holiday plans for overseas tourists. Esther Black, from London, has been waiting for two years to see lifelong friends in Israel, one of whom is now 87 years old. “We were coming when Israel was first locked up,” said Ms Black, 57. “We’ve been postponing it ever since.”

Ms. Black was vaccinated, scheduled to take a booster shot next week, and recovered from covid disease four weeks ago. His teenage son planned to take a second shot next week, so the family began planning a trip to Israel for the December holidays.

“Now I don’t know when I can come,” Ms Black said. “I’m very tired, but I think we should all do what Israel is doing,” he added.

Ida Alami from Morocco and Muktida Suhardono from Indonesia contributed to the reporting.

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