Israel seals borders and Morocco bans flights as Omicron Covid fears rise | Coronavirus


Israel is barring entry to all foreign nationals and Morocco is suspending all incoming flights for two weeks, in the two most drastic of travel restrictions imposed by countries around the world in an attempt to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Israel’s coronavirus cabinet has authorised a series of measures including banning entry by foreigners, red-listing travel to 50 African countries, and making quarantine mandatory for all Israelis arriving from abroad. The entry ban is expected to come into effect at midnight local time (10pm GMT) on Sunday.

Morocco’s foreign ministry tweeted on Sunday that all incoming air travel to the north African country would be suspended to “preserve the achievements realised by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens”. Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccinations in Africa, and kept its borders closed for months in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Israel cases

Many countries, including Brazil, Canada, European Union states, Iran and the US, have placed restrictions on travel from various southern African countries over the past couple of days since the variant was identified by researchers in South Africa.

Early evidence suggests the heavily mutated variant poses a higher risk of reinfection than earlier variants and that it could also be more transmissible.

The Dutch public health authority confirmed on Sunday that 13 people who had arrived on flights from South Africa on Friday had so far tested positive for Omicron. The Dutch health minister, Hugo de Jonge, said it was “not unlikely” that more Omicron cases would appear in the Netherlands. “This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Austria also announced that it had detected its first suspected case of Omicron, while the French health minister, Olivier Véran, said it was probably only a matter of hours before the variant was picked up in France. Cases have already been detected elsewhere in Europe.

Following the discovery of cases in the UK, the government reimposed some restrictions including compulsory mask wearing on public transport and shops in England.

Meanwhile, Swiss voters backed the government in a referendum on whether people going to bars and restaurants should show a Covid certificate to demonstrate their vaccination or recovery status. Early results shows that more than 60% chose to support the law on a 64% turnout. Opponents of the Covid pass had claimed the move would create an “apartheid system”. On Sunday police cordoned off government buildings and the Swiss parliament in the city of Berne in anticipation of protests.

Over the weekend, New Zealand announced it was restricting travel from nine southern African countries, and Japan widened its border controls to include more countries from the region.

Tourist-dependent Thailand, which only recently began loosening its tight border restrictions to leisure travellers from certain countries, announced a ban on visitors from eight African countries. Similar restrictions took effect in the business hub of Singapore, which is barring entry and transit to anyone with a recent history of travel to seven southern African countries. Sri Lanka banned disembarkation of passengers arriving from six African countries, as did the Maldives.

The act first, ask questions later approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant nearly two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, upended lives and disrupted economies across the globe. But many experts cautioned that so much was still unknown about the new variant, and the World Health Organization called for borders to remain open, noting that closing them often has a limited effect.

In the latest indication that the new variant may be hard to constrain, health officials in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, said two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on Saturday evening had tested positive. Both people were asymptomatic, fully vaccinated and in quarantine, NSW Health said. Another 12 passengers from southern Africa were also in 14 days of hotel quarantine, while about 260 other passengers and aircrew have been directed to isolate.

Israel also approved use of the Shin Bet internal security agency’s controversial phone monitoring technology to trace contacts of people in Israel confirmed with the new variant. Israeli rights groups had decried the use of the technology as a violation of privacy rights, and the supreme court ruled earlier this year that its use be limited.

Dr Ran Balicer, head of the government’s advisory panel on Covid, told Israel’s Kan public radio that the new measures were necessary for the “fog of war” surrounding the new variant, saying it was “better to act early and strictly” to prevent its spread.

On Saturday, Israel said it had detected the new strain in a traveller who had returned from Malawi, and it was investigating seven other suspected cases. The seven people included three who were vaccinated, and all were placed in isolation.

Associated Press contributed to this report



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Netherlands, Australia, Denmark confirm omicron cases as Israel shuts borders.


The omicron coronavirus variant keeps spreading around the world with more countries reporting cases on Sunday, leading some experts to warn that the travel bans governments have rushed to implement may be too late. Health authorities in the Netherlands said 13 cases of the new COVID-19 variant were detected among passengers on two flights that arrived from South Africa to Amsterdam on Friday. Officials had already said there were 61 COVID-19 cases among the more than 600 passengers on the flights. “It is not unlikely more cases will appear in the Netherlands,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told a news conference. “This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg.”

Thousands of miles away, Australian officials confirmed that two travelers arriving in Sydney from southern Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the omicron variant. The two passengers were asymptomatic and fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The 12 other people who had traveled with them were placed in quarantine. “This clearly demonstrates the pandemic is not over,” Dominic Perrottet, the premier of New South Wales state, which is where Sydney Is located, told reporters on Sunday. “There are limits to what the state and federal government can do: These variants will get into the country. It is inevitable.”

Denmark also said on Sunday it had detected the variant in two travelers from South Africa. Earlier, the variant that was first discovered in South Africa had been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia, and Hong Kong. The list of countries is only likely to keep growing as Austria said it was investigating a suspected case and France’s health minister warned the variant was likely already circulating.

As governments around the world implemented travel bans from countries in southern Africa, Israel decided to take a more extreme route. Israel said late Saturday that all foreigners would be banned from entering the country for 14 days to give experts time to analyze how effective the current crop of vaccines are against the new variant. Fully vaccinated Israelis will have to undergo a three-day quarantine while those who have not been fully vaccinated will have to quarantine for seven days. “The key here is caution and minimal risks until we know more,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennet said at a news conference. Morocco went even further, saying that it would halt all incoming foreign air travel for two weeks starting on Monday.

Many other countries, including the United States, are taking less extreme measures and have decided to ban travel from South Africa and other neighboring countries. These types of bans could help countries buy a few days but are unlikely to really stop the new variant. “By the time we have enough information to institute a travel ban, the cat’s already out of the bag, so to speak,” Nicole A. Errett, a professor at the University of Washington, tells the Washington Post. “Omicron has already been detected in other continents. A travel ban could in theory buy some time by reducing the spread of new seed cases, but we are talking on the order of days to weeks.”





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UK, Germany and Italy detect Omicron variant cases, Israel closes borders


  • Britain, Germany, Italy say Omicron cases detected
  • UK PM Johnson unveils new measures to try to stop spread
  • Many states announce travel curbs, bans on southern Africa
  • Dutch authorities test air passengers for Omicron variant

LONDON/BERLIN/AMSTERDAM, Nov 27 (Reuters) – Britain, Germany and Italy detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new steps to contain the virus, while more nations imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa.

The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets on Friday as investors worried that Omicron could stall a global recovery from the nearly two-year pandemic.

Israel said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant. read more

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The two linked cases of Omicron detected in Britain were connected to travel to southern Africa, British health minister Sajid Javid said.

Johnson laid out measures that included stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country but that stopped short of curbs on social activity other than requiring mask wearing in some settings. read more

“We will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result,” Johnson told a news conference.

People who had come into contact with people testing positive for a suspected case of Omicron would have to self-isolate for 10 days and the government would tighten the rules on wearing face coverings, Johnson said, adding the steps would be reviewed in three weeks.

The health ministry in the German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant. The two people entered Germany at Munich airport on Nov. 24, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus-variant area, and were now isolating, said the ministry, indicating without stating explicitly that the people had travelled from South Africa. read more

In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.

Czech health authorities also said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.

Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants of the disease, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty, said at the same news conference as Johnson that there was still much uncertainty around Omicron, but “there is a reasonable chance that at least there will be some degree of vaccine escape with this variant”.

The variant was first discovered in South Africa and had also since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

FLIGHTS TO AMSTERDAM

Dutch authorities said 61 of around 600 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday had tested positive for the coronavirus. Health authorities were carrying out further tests to see if those cases involved the new variant. read more

One passenger who arrived from South Africa on Friday, Dutch photographer Paula Zimmerman, said she tested negative but was anxious for the days to come.

Digital display boards show cancelled flights to London – Heathrow at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, November 26, 2021. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham/File Photo

“I’ve been told that they expect that a lot more people will test positive after five days. It’s a little scary the idea that you’ve been in a plane with a lot of people who tested positive,” she said.

Financial markets plunged on Friday, especially stocks of airlines and others in the travel sector. Oil prices tumbled by about $10 a barrel.

It could take weeks for scientists to understand fully the variant’s mutations and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it.

TRAVEL CURBS

Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally, many countries around the world – including the United States, Brazil, Canada and European Union nations – announced travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa on Friday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Department added on Saturday to Washington’s previously announced travel restrictions, advising against travel to eight southern African countries.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on Saturday that the administration will take it “one step at a time,” when asked about additional travel restrictions. “For now we’ve done what we think is necessary,” Harris said.

Also on Saturday, Australia said it would ban non-citizens who have been in nine southern African countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens returning from there. read more

Japan and Britain said they were extending travel curbs to more African countries, while South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Oman, Kuwait and Hungary announced new travel restrictions.

South Africa is worried that the curbs will hurt tourism and other sectors of its economy, the foreign ministry said on Saturday, adding the government is engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider. read more

Omicron has emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling a surge in COVID-19 infections, and some have re-introduced restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread. Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdowns.

VACCINATIONS

The new variant has also thrown a spotlight on disparities in how far the world’s population is vaccinated. Even as many developed countries are giving third-dose boosters, less than 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.

Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance that with the WHO co-leads the COVAX initiative to push for equitable distribution of vaccines, said this was essential to ward off the emergence of more coronavirus variants.

“While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world’s population are unvaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged,” he said in a statement to Reuters.

“We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect all of the world’s population, not just the wealthy parts.”

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Reporting by Toby Sterling, Bart H. Meijer, Costas Pitas, Promit Mukerjee, Stephanie Nebehay, Madeline Chambers, Robert Muller and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Alexander Smith, Nick Macfie and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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Israel bars travel to and from South Africa over new COVID strain – Israel News


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Arkansas Governor Traveling to Israel on a Trade Mission | Arkansas News


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday that he would travel to Israel on his first international economic development trip since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Hutchinson said he would leave Saturday for Israel, where he would speak at the Prime Minister’s Smart Mobility Conference. Hutchinson’s office said he would return Thursday.

Officials going with the governor include Commerce Secretary Mike Preston. Hutchinson said 5,000 people from 40 countries are expected at the summit, presenting a “great marketing opportunity” for the state.

Hutchinson’s last international economic development trip was in November 2019, when he traveled to China and Japan.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Traveling Through a Divided Israel


Palestinians also take inspiration from Black Lives Matter, and I asked if that had prompted Mr. Tasama to draw any comparisons between his struggle and theirs. He said he hadn’t really considered it.

In fact, his search for belonging had perhaps pushed him in the opposite direction: What ultimately sustains him, he said, is his connection, as a Jew, to this land.

“It is our right to be here,” he said. “This is the place that God gave us.”

The police knew where, though. They arrived an hour after we did, in a convoy of five police cars and a truck carrying two bulldozers, sending the villagers’ horses cantering into the desert. Lying on the sand under a tree, fiddling with his prayer beads, the aging village sheikh sprang to his feet, shouting at his son to chase the police.

“Take their photos!” he yelled.

It was a futile gesture. The police had demolished parts of the village 191 times since 2010, according to a rights watchdog; a camera had never deterred them. This time, their bulldozers knocked down two tents, then left as quickly as they had come.

“That was number 192,” said Aziz al-Turi, the sheikh’s son.

The al-Turi family is descended from Bedouin Arab nomads who crisscrossed the region for centuries, and later settled in the Negev before Israel was founded.

Israel says that most of the Bedouins have no right to the land, since their ownership claims were never recorded in Ottoman-era land registries. For decades, the government has been trying to move more than 30 Bedouin communities from their traditional grazing grounds in the Negev into seven purpose-built towns.

The most prominent holdout is Araqib. Residents showed us copies of a purchase document that they say proves they bought the land from another tribe in 1905. The state says the Ottomans never documented the sale.



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U.S. warns against travel to Israel, Portugal and Spain as delta variant fuels coronavirus outbreaks


Here are some significant developments:

  • European lawmakers and business groups voiced mounting criticism of continued U.S. restrictions on international travel. As vaccinated American tourists are traveling back and forth for their summer holidays in Paris or Rome, European allies or partners of the Biden administration are finding it increasingly difficult to defend the U.S. approach.
  • Officials in Tokyo reported a record for coronavirus infections Tuesday, registering 2,848 new cases, its highest daily count ever and four times the average at the end of June. Even as case numbers spiked in the city, however, the situation inside the Olympic bubble appeared to be much more under control.
  • After the president of Tajikistan’s sister died in the hospital, reportedly of covid-19, her three sons attacked and beat up the country’s health minister and a senior doctor, according to local media. The reports cast a rare spotlight on the sudden surge of cases in this Central Asian country that for a time denied it had any infections.
  • Fresh coronavirus outbreaks are forcing factory shutdowns in countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, aggravating supply chain disruptions that could leave some U.S. retailers with empty shelves as consumers begin their back-to-school shopping.
  • Iran, one of the pandemic’s hardest-hit nations, reported its largest single-day increase in new coronavirus cases Tuesday, recording nearly 35,000 infections and 357 deaths. The recent surge has been blamed on the more contagious delta variant. About 3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to publicly available figures.
  • Chinese researchers found that antibodies produced by the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine fell below a key threshold about six months after the second dose, raising concerns about waning immunity as new variants spread.



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Bangladesh drops ‘except Israel’ from passport, essentially lifting travel ban – Israel News


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