Reopening Borders Vs. Travel Bans: How Different Countries Are Reacting As Omicron Spreads


Japan on Monday announced a ban on all incoming international travellers while Malaysia and Singapore decided to go through with their planned border reopening on the same day, highlighting the differing approaches countries around the world are taking as cases of the omicron Covid variant—first detected in South Africa—emerge across Europe and other parts of the world.

Key Facts

Japan will suspend the entry of all foreign visitors from Tuesday as an emergency precaution against the new variant, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Monday while urging people in the country to continue wearing masks and follow other Covid prevention measures.

Earlier on Sunday, Israel imposed a similar ban on all foreign travelers for at least 14 days as it attempts to shore up its virus surveillance measures to halt the spread of omicron.

Despite concerns over the new variant, Singapore and Malaysia reopened their land borders to each other Monday, allowing vaccinated travelers to easily travel between the countries for the first time in nearly two years.

New Zealand, which is battling its own delta variant outbreak—after several months of no local cases—will switch to a system of living with Covid-19 later this week despite the threat of the new variant, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Monday.

New Zealand’s neighbour Australia—which was pushing forward with its own living with the virus approach—will review its planned reopening of borders to skilled migrants and students from December 1, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.


Feared to be more infectious than earlier variants, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus—first identified by South African health officials—has so far been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and the Netherlands.   

Key Background

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified omicron as a variant of concern given the large number of mutations it has shown. While not a lot is known about the new variant at the moment, it is believed to be the cause of a sharply growing outbreak in South Africa’s populous Gauteng province. The increased number of mutations has given rise to concern among some experts that omicron may be more infectious and even vaccine resistant compared to earlier iterations of the virus. These concerns have prompted several countries including the U.S., U.K., France, Italy, Germany, India and several others to impose restrictions on incoming travelers from southern Africa. 

Surprising Fact

The WHO has criticized efforts to impose travel bans on southern African nations, stating that they place “a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.” Studies conducted since the start of the pandemic have shown that such travel bans may not be very effective in controlling the spread of the virus. A study published in the Journal of Emergency Management, found very little evidence to prove that international travel bans are effective in controlling the spread of disease. Other studies have shown that such restrictions only serve to delay the spread of the virus but they need to be paired with aggressive local measures.

Further Reading

Here’s Where Omicron Is Spreading: UK, Netherlands, Australia Latest Reporting Cases (Forbes)

Singapore, Malaysia reopen land border amid worries over the Omicron variant (Reuters)

Japan joins Israel in barring foreigners as Omicron worries spread (Reuters)

More omicron cases pop up as world rushes to learn more (Associated Press)

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