Coronavirus travel restrictions: As variants spread, countries pursue new round of border measures

New Zealand, which has been lauded for its handling of the panic, may keep its borders closed to visitors for “much of this year,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Here are some significant developments:

The new U.S. restrictions come as a number of countries reconsider eased travel polices amid worry over virus variants that can make people sicker, spread faster and in some cases compromise the effectiveness of vaccines.

“With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a news briefing on Monday.

New Zealand’s prime minister said Tuesday that the country’s borders would probably stay closed to foreign visitors for the duration of the year, citing concerns about the global vaccination rollout.

“The rest of the world simply poses too great a risk to our health and our economy to take a risk at this stage,” Ardern said at a news conference in Wellington.

Britain, meanwhile, is set to announce Tuesday whether it will channel some new arrivals into quarantine hotels.

The country also announced Tuesday that it will lend its genomic expertise and capacity in tracking new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes covid-19. The program, called the New Variant Assessment Platform, will help other countries to identify changes in the virus while giving early warnings of new mutations that could be a threat to the United Kingdom.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement that the pandemic has shown the importance of maintaining not only the health of Britons and their neighbors, “but the health of people across the world.”

“Our New Variant Assessment Platform will help us better understand this virus and how it spreads and will also boost global capacity to understand coronavirus so we’re all better prepared for whatever lies ahead,” he said.

The European Union proposed a new round of travel restrictions Monday.

“We need to keep safe & discourage nonessential travel,” she wrote. “In parallel, we propose stronger requirements for international travelers into the EU: testing, quarantines and a future common European Passenger Locator Form.”

Germany is considering major restrictions on international air travel, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Tuesday.

“The danger posed by numerous virus mutations forces us to consider drastic measures. That includes significantly stricter border checks, especially at borders with high-risk areas, but also reducing air travel to Germany to almost zero, as Israel is currently doing,” Seehofer told the German newspaper Bild.

Meanwhile, Australia on Monday suspended its travel bubble with New Zealand for at least three days after a woman in Auckland was determined to have contracted the South African coronavirus variant. The woman had been in quarantine at an Auckland hotel, where officials think she may have contracted the disease from another quarantining person.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the suspension will give officials time to learn more about how the transmission occurred and prevent the spread of the highly contagious variant, the Guardian reported.

A quarantine period spanning up to 14 days will be required of all New Zealander travelers who planned to enter Australia during the suspension.

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