Asian countries, New Zealand impose new restrictions over omicron

AP , Tuesday 21 Dec 2021

Thailand, New Zealand and other Asian countries, imposes new restrictions over the concerns of the omicron variant spread

Health workers administer doses of AstraZeneca
Health workers administer doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Buddhist monks at the Wat Srisudaram in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, July 30, 2021. AP

Thailand on Tuesday decided to immediately reimpose a mandatory quarantine for visitors and suspend a "test-and-go'' scheme for fully vaccinated arrivals as concerns grow over the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the government said.

The decision is a blow to efforts to revive Thailand's battered tourism sector ahead of the peak holiday season.

"Today we no longer accept more applications for travelers. No new applications," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters. "We have about 200,000 travelers who already registered. No other restrictions apply for these people, but we will have to track them.''

He added that "from now, we are back to the old system of quarantine when entering.''

New Zealand will shorten the gap between second COVID-19 vaccine doses and boosters and push back the phased reopening of its borders in measures announced Tuesday to keep the omicron variant at bay.

The gap between a second vaccine dose and a booster will be shortened from six to four months, meaning 82 percent of vaccinated New Zealanders will be due for a booster by February.

New Zealand's strict border regulations so far have been successful in keeping omicron from spreading in the community. The only cases reported so far have been in travelers who are in managed isolation and quarantine.

"Public health advice suggests that soon every case coming into our border, into our managed isolation facilities, will be the omicron variant,'' COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said. "We already know that booster vaccinations significantly lift an individual's immunity, reducing the spread and the severity of COVID-19.''

Plans to allow travelers from Australia to self-isolate from Jan. 17, rather than go through managed isolation, have been pushed back to the end of February.

Cases of coronavirus have surged in Australia, as government tighten precautions to prevent or curb outbreaks.

Hipkins said with Australia's New South Wales state "now expecting to record 25,000 cases a day by the end of January, opening the border in mid-January as planned simply presents too high a risk at this point.''

India, which also opened to vaccinated tourists in November, has since suspended commercial international flights until Jan. 31 as global alarm over the variant grows. Still, international travel has continued via a number of flights from countries that India had agreements with.

Japan, where the vast majority of the population is vaccinated, now bans entry to most foreign nationals.

Mainland China and Hong Kong have continued to ban tourists from entry. Visitors face tight entry restrictions and mandatory 14- to 21-day quarantines depending on which part of the country they arrive in.

*This story was compiled by Ahram Online.

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