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These countries have imposed travel restrictions due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant

Cases of the fast-spreading Omicron COVID-19 variant are continuing to pop up around the world, as many countries rush to close their borders and tighten travel restrictions to curb the spread. Canadathe NetherlandsAustralia, the UKDenmark, and Austria are among the countries that have detected the potentially more contagious Omicron variant just days after it was first identified by researchers in South Africa—and many are tightening up their rules again.

IsraelJapan and Morocco have taken a particularly hard line against the new strain by banning all foreign visitors. The UK’s reponse was to reintroduce mask mandates and PCR tests for travelers, and a temporary ban on flights from several southern African countries. The ban was lifted after Sunday, but entry is limited to legal residents return from southern Africa who will also be required to quarantine. Canada has also put a travel ban on South Africa and neighboring nations.

The US has not yet detected the Omicron strain but from today it will ban entry of any foreign national who has been in South Africa, NamibiaZimbabweLesothoMozambiqueMalawi or eSwatini in the previous two weeks, and has advised US citizens against travel to those countries. However, returning US citizens or permanent residents can enter the US under the current COVID-19 entry rules when traveling from those nations.

Australia has introduced a measure similar to the US, and will also delay the reopening of its international borders to certain eligible visa holders for another two weeks. Borders were supposed to open on December 1 but it will be pushed out as scientists continue to gather more information on Omicron.

The EU has proposed putting an “emergency brake” on arrivals from seven southern African countries, and most member states have already agreed to it as a surge in Delta-driven COVID-19 infections continues to hit the region hard.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled Omicron as a variant of concern and has said the “overall global risk related to the new variant…is assessed as very high”, but has warned governments against closing their borders now that the variant has been detected in many countries.

“Flight bans have been imposed on southern African countries, but so far only two have detected the new variant. Meanwhile countries in other regions have reported cases of Omicron,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The variant was identified only on November 24, and there are still many unknowns. While investigations continue, the WHO is recommending the nations take “a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures which can limit its possible spread” and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.

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