Japan will close to all foreign travellers from Tuesday, in a bid to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
It means the country will restore border controls it had only eased earlier this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers.
First detected by researchers in southern Africa, much is still not known about B.1.1.529 but there are fears it could be more contagious than other variants – and more resistant to vaccines.
Israel is considering whether to completely shut its borders. File pic
Global concern about the new strain is growing, with countries confirming cases for the first time and travel restrictions being imposed once again.
Noting that the variant has already been detected in many countries and that closing borders often has limited effect, the World Health Organisation called for frontiers to remain open.
Here are the latest COVID-19 developments around the world.
The Japanese government has announced it will close its borders to all foreigners from Tuesday.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “We are responding to the Omicron variant with a strong sense of urgency.”
Travel restrictions are being imposed once again as governments suspend flights from southern Africa
Over the weekend, Japan had tightened entry restrictions for people arriving from South Africa and eight other countries, requiring them to undergo a 10-day quarantine period.
On Saturday, Israel unveiled plans to ban all foreigners from entering the country, having already identified cases on home soil.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban would last for 14 days, if the proposals are approved.
So far, Israel has one confirmed case of the Omicron variant and seven suspected cases.
Phone-tracking technology is going to be used to locate carriers of the new variant, in an attempt to stop it being transmitted to others.
Dr Anthony Fauci said he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if the Omicron variant is already in the US. File pic
From Monday, the US is going to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region.
American citizens and permanent US residents – along with spouses and close friends – will be exempt.
No cases linked to Omicron have been detected in the country so far.
But Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease specialist, told NBC that he wouldn’t be surprised if the variant is already in the States, adding: “When you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility… it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over.”
In separate developments, New York Governor Kathy Hochul issued a COVID-19 “disaster emergency” declaration on Friday, with infections and hospitalisations increasing in the state.
A business traveller from Italy caught the Omicron variant on a trip to Mozambique. File pic
France’s health ministry said on Sunday that it had detected eight possible cases of the Omicron variant, with the government saying it would tighten restrictions to contain its spread.
Canada has detected two cases of the Omicron variant in Ontario, authorities announced on Sunday.
Health officials Christine Elliott and Kieran Moore said in a joint statement that the cases were found in two people who had recently been in Nigeria.
Ontario has focused rapid COVID-19 testing on travellers who have been to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
On Saturday, health officials confirmed that a case of the Omicron variant had been detected in Italy.
The business traveller had flown from Mozambique, landing in Rome on 11 November and returning to his home in Naples.
Five of his family members, including two children, have also tested positive. All are now isolating and have light symptoms.
Two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the southern state of Bavaria. File pic
The Omicron variant has also been detected in three travellers who arrived on a flight from South Africa on 24 November.
Two cases were detected in the southern state of Bavaria, the other in Hesse in the west of the country.
Germany, like other parts of Europe, was suffering under a new wave of cases before Omicron was detected.
Dutch officials are ‘almost certain’ that the Omicron variant is in the country
Dutch health officials have detected 61 COVID-19 cases among people who flew from South Africa – 13 of which are confirmed to be Omicron.
The Dutch health minister said it was possible that there were more cases of the new COVID variant in the country.
The KLM airline expressed surprise at the high number of cases because all passengers had either tested negative or shown proof of vaccination before boarding flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Authorities in the country are now attempting to contact 5,000 passengers who have travelled from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe since Monday.
Switzerland has banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region
The first case of the variant has been discovered in Switzerland, the government announced late on Sunday as the country tightened its entry restrictions. The case relates to a person who returned from South Africa around a week ago.
Quarantine requirements have been widened to a greater number of travellers in an attempt to stem the spread of the Omicron variant.
Those arriving from 19 countries, including the UK, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi must prevent a negative COVID-19 test and isolate for 10 days on arrival.
Direct flights have already been banned from South Africa and the surrounding region.
Despite cases being detected in Italy and Germany, both neighbours of Switzerland, travel restrictions have not been imposed on any countries it shares borders with.
Spain is clamping down on unvaccinated Britons entering the country
From next month, British tourists will only be able to enter Spain if they can show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.
Until now, unvaccinated travellers were allowed into the country if they could present a negative PCR test that was taken 72 hours before their arrival.
“The appearance of new variants causing (coronavirus) obliges an increase in restrictions,” the government said.
Spain’s Industry, Trade and Tourism department said approximately 300,000 British people who are resident in Spain will not be affected by the new measures.
All travellers arriving in the country will need to quarantine for at least seven days – with those arriving from southern Africa and Hong Kong having to self isolate for 14 days.
Indonesia is due to take over the presidency of the G20 on 1 December, and has said that delegates attending will not be affected by the restrictions.
A number of cases have been detected in Denmark
Two cases of Omicron have been identified in Denmark in two travellers who arrived from South Africa.
Henrik Ullum, director of the State Serum Institute, said: “This was to be expected, and our strategy is therefore to continue intensive monitoring of the infection in the country.”
The pair have been put in isolation, and contacts are being traced.
Two cases of Omicron have also been found in Australia, in the state of New South Wales.
Again, the pair involved were on a flight from southern Africa, both had been vaccinated and were asymptomatic. They are now isolating, and 260 other people on the flight are also in isolation.
Anyone arriving in the state from southern African countries, and the Seychelles, have been told they must isolate for 14 days.
Still, the nation plans to press ahead with plans to reopen borders to skilled migrants and students from 1 December.
New Zealand has announced it is restricting travel from nine southern African countries.
Tourist-dependent Thailand, which only recently began loosening its tight border restrictions to leisure travellers, has also announced a ban on visitors from eight African countries.
The country’s foreign ministry said it is suspending all incoming air travel from around the world from Monday for two weeks.
In a tweet, it said the move had been taken to “preserve the achievements realised by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens”.
Original Article: news.sky.com
Lifting of Lockdowns in Major Chinese Cities Signals Shift in COVID Stance
Major Chinese cities have started to lift COVID lockdowns and ease restrictions following widespread protests over stringent zero-COVID policies.
Less than 24 hours after violent protests in Guangzhou, officials in at least seven districts of the sprawling port city north of Hong Kong announced they were lifting lockdowns.
One district on Wednesday said it would allow in-person classes in schools to resume and would reopen restaurants and other businesses including cinemas.
Authorities in the southwestern city of Chongqing said they would now allow close contacts of people with COVID-19, who meet certain conditions, to quarantine at home.
The “orderly” resumption of businesses, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants was announced in Zhengzhou in central China, where there have been clashes at a huge Foxconn factory making iPhones, and an exodus of workers from the site frustrated by COVID curbs.
People with mild coronavirus symptoms in east Beijing are now being allowed to self-isolate at home, according to new rules issued by community leaders.
Another nearby neighbourhood is holding an online poll this week on the possibility of positive cases isolating at home.
“I certainly welcome the decision by our residential community to run this vote regardless of the outcome,” said resident Tom Simpson, managing director for China at the China-Britain Business Council.
He said his main concern was being forced to go into a quarantine facility, where “conditions can be grim to say the least”.
Police clash with protesters in China
The softening stance follows quarantine protocols earlier in the year which saw entire communities locked down, sometimes for weeks, after even just one positive case was found.
National health officials said earlier in the week that China would respond to “urgent concerns” raised by the public and that COVID rules should be implemented more flexibly, according to the severity of outbreaks in each region.
Despite near-record case numbers, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said on Wednesday the virus’s ability to cause disease was weakening, state media reported.
She also urged further “optimisation” of testing, treatment and quarantine policies.
It contrasts with earlier messages from authorities about the deadliness of the virus.
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Although the easing of some measures appears to be an attempt to appease the public, authorities have also started to seek out protesters, some who were at the Beijing protests told Reuters news agency.
“Police came to my front door to ask me about it all and get me to complete a written record,” a resident, who did not want to be identified, said.
Another said some friends who posted videos of protests on social media were taken to a police station and asked to sign a pledge they “would not do that again”.
Saudi Arabia Wants Its Investors to Own Manchester United and Liverpool
Saudi Arabia says it wants its investors to take over Manchester United and Liverpool – and hopes Cristiano Ronaldo comes to play in its domestic league.
Sports minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal revealed the country’s latest sporting ambitions in an interview with Sky News – with the sovereign wealth fund already owning Newcastle and now funding a breakaway golf series.
It is the availability of United – after the Glazers announced plans for a potential sale – and Ronaldo that is interesting Prince Abdulaziz.
‘Islamophobic’ if forced to sell alcohol
He would be keen on Ronaldo signing for a Saudi Pro League after the World Cup, with the 37-year-old a free agent following a fraught departure this week from United.
“Who wouldn’t want him to play in their league?” Prince Abdulaziz told Sky News. “He’s a role model to a lot of young players – him and Messi.”
The vision would see the Saudi league featuring both Ronaldo and Messi, who is still signed to Paris Saint-Germain but is already signed up to promote Saudi Arabia.
“That’s benefited a lot in terms of tourism for the kingdom,” Prince Abdulaziz said. “If they can, I’d love to see them both play in the Saudi league.”
Newcastle was bought by the Saudis last year through the Public Investment Fund, which the Premier League claims is not controlled by the government despite being headed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo
Now two other Premier League clubs are on the market – Liverpool and United – and the sports minister wants either – or both – to fall under Saudi ownership.
“I hope so, if there are investors and the numbers add up, and it makes a good business,” he said. “Then the private sector could come in, or companies could come in, from the kingdom.”
He added: “The Premier League is the best league in the world. Everyone’s watching the Premier League. It’s the most watched league and there are diehard fans of these teams in the kingdom. So it would be a benefit for everyone.”
“I can say that we have a strong league. It’s not one of the strongest in Asia. You know, we’re building towards a better future. And we see how the future holds up for that.”
He continued: “And you know, I heard about these speculations in the news, as everyone else. I don’t have any details about any of the reports that have been coming out. But you know, what I can say is that we have Messi as an ambassador for tourism in the kingdom with the ministry of tourism – and that’s benefited a lot.”
He went on: “In terms of tourism for the kingdom, if they can, I’d love to see them both play in the Saudi League, and, you know, if top players come into the Saudi League and play that will reinforce the programmes that we’re doing.
“It will showcase that, you know, the league is stronger to showcase that there’s potential for the youth to admire for the future.”
Biden and Zelenskyy at Odds Over Origin of Missile That Killed Two in Poland
US President Joe Biden has disputed Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s assertions that a missile that landed in Poland and killed two people was not of Ukrainian origin.
Ukraine’s president said on Wednesday he had “no doubt” the missile “was not Ukrainian” and called for his officials to have access to the site of the blast.
Mr Biden has said the trajectory suggested the missile was unlikely to have come from Russia and, when asked on Thursday about Mr Zelenskyy’s comments on the issue, he told reporters: “That’s not the evidence.”
‘Unlikely missile was fired from Russia’
The missile hit a grain silo on a farm in Przewodow – around four miles from Poland’s border with Ukraine.
The blast sparked an international outcry amid the possibility it represented a Russian assault on NATO territory, after the Polish ministry of foreign affairs described the missile as “Russian-made”.
However, Moscow insists it did not fire the missile, with Russia’s defence ministry denying Russian involvement, saying: “No strikes on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish state border were made by Russian means of destruction.”
It claimed images of the site showed the wreckage to be that of a Ukrainian S-300 missile.
Three US officials have said preliminary assessments suggest the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces at an incoming Russian one.
Ukraine maintains stocks of Soviet and Russian-made weaponry, including air-defence missiles, and has also seized many more Russian weapons while beating back the Kremlin’s forces during the conflict – now in its ninth month.
The missile blast in Poland had sparked worried talk of NATO’s Article 5, which means an attack on a member country is seen as an attack on all allies.
How did Poland missile strike play out?
‘This is not Ukraine’s fault’
But Polish President Andrzej Duda has said his country is “very likely” to instead invoke Article 4, which allows a member country to raise a security issue and have it discussed.
“From the information that we and our allies have, it was an S-300 rocket made in the Soviet Union, an old rocket and there is no evidence that it was launched by the Russian side,” he said.
“It is highly probable that it was fired by Ukrainian anti-aircraft defence to protect Ukrainian territory.”
NATO ambassadors have held emergency talks in response to the war’s first deadly extension into the territory of the Western alliance.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has also spoken about Tuesday’s incident and said whatever the outcome of the investigation into the blast, Russia “bears ultimate responsibility as it continues its illegal war against Ukraine”.
“This is not Ukraine’s fault,” he said.
Other key developmentso Investigators in Ukraine’s southern port city of Kherson have found 63 bodies with signs of torture, the country’s interior minister is quoted as saying by the Interfax Ukraine news agencyo Explosions are being reported in the northern Crimean town of Dzhankoi, according to Belarusian news outlet Nextao The Czech Republic plans to train up to 4,000 Ukrainian troops in 2023, the country’s defence minister sayso The International Paralympic Committee votes to suspend Russia at its general assembly in Berlin
Poland missile ‘not Ukraine’s fault’
Russian missile strikes target energy and infrastructure
The incident occurred during what Ukraine has described as the biggest wave of Russian missile strikes on its territory since the start of Russia’s invasion in February.
According to UK intelligence, Russia carried out up to 80 long-range missile strikes – mostly against power infrastructure targets – on Tuesday.
“This is likely the largest number of strikes that Russia has conducted in a single day since the first week of the invasion,” said the UK’s Ministry of Defence.
As Russian forces continue to attack Ukraine’s national infrastructure, this is “drawing deeply upon Russia’s reserves of conventional cruise missiles”, it added in its latest update on the situation on the ground.
It came as fresh Russian missile strikes on Thursday targeted critical infrastructure including gas production facilities and a missile plant, the Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal as saying.
Air raid warnings were issued as explosions were heard in several parts of the country, including the southern port city of Odesa, the capital Kyiv and the central city of Dnipro – home to the huge Pivdenmash missile factory.
There were further reports that the southern port city of Odesa was also struck by missiles.
Oleksiy Chernyshov, chief executive of state energy company Natogaz, said Russia had carried out a “massive attack” on the infrastructure of gas producer Ukrgazvydobuvannia in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said: “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin wants to deprive millions of people of electricity and heating, amid freezing temperatures. Send Ukraine more air and missile defence systems to avert this tragedy. Delays cost lives.”
Black Sea grain deal extended
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the extension of an international deal to ensure the safe delivery of exports of grain, foodstuffs, and fertilisers from Ukraine through the Black Sea.
July’s Turkey and UN-brokered grain export deal ensured safe passage in and out of Odesa and two other Ukrainian ports, Chornomorsk and Yuzhne, and was set to expire on Saturday.
It followed a blockade of Ukrainian ports by Russia’s Black Sea fleet, which cut off supplies to grain and other food products around the world and sent global prices soaring.
Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest grain producers, and the four-month-old programme averted a global food crisis.
Mr Zelenskyy said earlier that he expected the renewal for at least 120 days, calling it a “key decision in the global fight against the food crisis”.
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