New Zealand to start reopening borders to world from January

New Zealand to start reopening borders to world from January
New Zealand imposed harsh border restrictions when the pandemic began, requiring travelers to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel run by the military. (New Zealand Herald via AP)
Short Url
Updated 24 November 2021

New Zealand to start reopening borders to world from January

New Zealand to start reopening borders to world from January
  • The South Pacific nation imposed harsh border restrictions when the pandemic began
  • New Zealand is also removing a very-high-risk designation from certain countries

WELLINGTON: New Zealand will reopen its borders to the world over the coming months, the government announced Wednesday, allowing for the return of displaced residents from January and tourists from April.
The South Pacific nation imposed harsh border restrictions when the pandemic began, effectively banning tourists and requiring returning residents to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel run by the military.
At times, demand for quarantine beds has far outstripped supply, causing some displaced residents to wait months for available slots.
For the first 18 months of the pandemic, the border measures were considered vital in keeping New Zealand free from the virus.
But an August outbreak proved impossible to stamp out, prompting New Zealand to abandon its elimination strategy in October. Vaccination rates have also been rising, making the border measures increasingly hard to justify.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the government had made difficult trade-offs to keep New Zealanders as safe as possible throughout the pandemic.
“We acknowledge that it has been very tough. Families have been separated. People have found themselves having to shelter in places they did not expect to stay for prolonged periods of time,” Hipkins said. “We are acutely aware of the impact that these restrictions have had on individuals’ lives and their livelihoods.”
Under the government’s plan, all incoming travelers will still be required to isolate themselves for seven days, at least for now.
Hipkins said it wanted to mitigate the virus risk posed by incoming travelers by reopening the border in stages.
Fully vaccinated New Zealanders will be able to return from Australia without staying in quarantine from Jan. 16 and from other countries after Feb. 13. The door will then open in stages to tourists and other travelers from April 30.
New Zealand is also removing a very-high-risk designation from certain countries including Indonesia, India and Brazil, allowing people from those countries to return or visit.
New Zealand announced earlier this week that bars, restaurants and gyms can reopen in Auckland from Dec. 2, removing the last remnants of a lockdown that began in the nation’s largest city in August.
It also signaled a new phase in New Zealand’s response to the pandemic, in which people around the country will need to be fully vaccinated in order to participate in anything from getting a haircut to watching a concert.
About 69 percent of New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, including 84 percent of those aged 12 and over. New Zealand has reported just 40 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began.


Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry
Updated 5 sec ago

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry

Philippines suspends decision to allow COVID-19 vaccinated tourists entry
  • Manila announced plans last week to allow fully vaccinated tourists from most countries to enter from December 1
  • The decision is a major blow to tourism operators across the archipelago nation
MANILA: The Philippines has temporarily suspended a decision to allow fully vaccinated tourists entry in a bid to prevent a new, heavily mutated coronavirus variant taking off in the country where most of the population remains unvaccinated.
It comes as the Southeast Asian nation on Monday launched a three-day vaccination drive targeting nine million people as young as 12 in an effort to accelerate the roll-out of jabs.
So far, the country has not reported any cases of the Omicron strain, which was first detected in South Africa and has since spread around the globe.
Manila announced plans last week to allow fully vaccinated tourists from most countries to enter from December 1 as it seeks to revive the nation’s battered economy.
But the government’s COVID-19 task force reversed course over the weekend as it announced the suspension of flights from seven European countries, in addition to an earlier ban on arrivals from several African nations.
“The IATF deemed it necessary to suspend the entry of foreign tourists, given worldwide concerns over the Omicron variant,” Bureau of Immigration commissioner Jaime Morente said Monday, using the acronym for the task force.
The decision is a major blow to tourism operators across the archipelago nation, which have been devastated by a plunge in international visitors and restrictions on domestic travel since borders shut in March 2020.
Tourism is a major driver of the country’s economy, accounting for nearly 13 percent of gross domestic product in 2019, when more than eight million people visited, official data shows.
That slumped to 5.4 percent last year as tourist arrivals plummeted 82 percent to 1.48 million.
The government has eased virus restrictions in recent weeks as the daily infection rate hovers at the lowest level since the beginning of the year and the nationwide vaccination rate increases.
But the emergence of Omicron has raised fears curbs could be reimposed.
Around one-third of the country’s 110 million people are fully vaccinated.
The Philippines has recorded more than 2.8 million infections since the start of the pandemic, including over 48,000 deaths.

Australia reports third case of Omicron COVID-19 variant

Australia reports third case of Omicron COVID-19 variant
Updated 23 min 58 sec ago

Australia reports third case of Omicron COVID-19 variant

Australia reports third case of Omicron COVID-19 variant
  • South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant

CANBERRA: Australian authorities announced on Monday a third case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant as government leaders reconsidered plans to relax border restrictions this week.
A South African man who flew from Johannesburg to Darwin last Thursday tested positive for the new variant at Australia’s most secure quarantine facility at Howard Springs, Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles said.
New South Wales state authorities reported on Sunday that two travelers from South Africa to Sydney had become Australia’s first Omicron cases. Both were fully vaccinated, showed no symptoms and were in quarantine in Sydney.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said Monday there could be a third Omicron case in Australia’s most populous state.
In the 24 hours since Sunday, 141 passengers on five flights arrived from the nine countries affected by the Omicron variant, officials said. All the travelers were in quarantine.
Senior federal government ministers are meeting Monday to consider the national response, including whether to alter plans to relax border restrictions starting Wednesday.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australian authorities “will not hesitate to take additional steps if the medical evidence is that more” action is required.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that starting Wednesday, vaccinated students, skilled workers and travelers on working vacations will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without quarantining.
Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea with certain Australian visas would also be allowed in without quarantining, as well as people on humanitarian visas, the government said last week.
Morrison on Monday urged a calm response to Omicron, which the World Health Organization has designated a variant of concern.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that this leads to any more severe disease. If anything, it’s suggesting a lesser form of disease, particularly for those who are vaccinated,” Morrison told Nine Network television.
“Case numbers of themselves are not the issue. It’s about whether people are getting a worse illness or it’s going to put stress on your hospital system,” Morrison said.
New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, as well as the national capital Canberra have introduced a blanket 72-hour quarantine requirement for all international arrivals.
Hunt announced on Saturday that because of the concerns about Omicron, non-Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.
Australians will be allowed in but must quarantine for 14 days.


New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite Omicron threat

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite Omicron threat
Updated 29 November 2021

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite Omicron threat

New Zealand to ease COVID-19 measures this week despite Omicron threat
  • New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world
  • New Zealand has had about 11,000 cases so far and 43 related deaths

WELLINGTON: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday the country will move into a system of living with the COVID-19 virus later this week despite the new Omicron variant posing a fresh health threat to the world.
There were no cases of the Omicron variant in New Zealand at this stage but the developing global situation showed why a cautious approach was needed at the borders, she said.
“Omicron is a reminder of the risk that still exists at our borders,” Ardern said at the news conference.
New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world and plans to keep borders closed to most international travelers for a further five months.
It also introduced fresh border measures for travelers from nine southern African nation on the weekend, announcing that only citizens from these countries can travel to New Zealand and will have to stay in state quarantine for 14 days.
Ardern said a lot of evidence still needed to be gathered to know the impact of the Omicron variant.
“It may impact on our vaccines, but it may not. It may be more severe or it may be more mild than Delta ... we simply dont know,” Ardern said.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said authorities were looking at whether more needed to be done at the borders to keep Omicron away.
“It’s really just looking to keep it (Omicron) out while we learn more about it,” Bloomfield told reporters at the news conference.
New Zealand moves into a new “traffic light” system from Friday that rates regions as red, orange or green depending on their level of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccination rates. Auckland, the epicenter of the country’s Delta outbreak, will start at red, making face masks mandatory and putting limits on gatherings at public places.
New Zealand has had about 11,000 cases so far and 43 related deaths.


Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days
Updated 29 November 2021

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days

Philippines launches campaign to vaccinate 9 million people in three days
  • Immunization campaign was scaled back from an earlier target of 15 million shots
  • The Philippines has faced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: The Philippines launched on Monday an ambitious drive to vaccinate nine million people against COVID-19 over three days, deploying security forces and using tens of thousands of volunteers to help administer the program.
The immunization campaign was scaled back from an earlier target of 15 million shots, but would still be a record in a country where vaccine hesitancy remains an obstacle and there are logistical hurdles to reach people in the sprawling archipelago.
Three million vaccinations per day is nearly four times the average of 829,000 daily shots in November. An official said news of the Omicron variant made the campaign even more vital.
“It is better to be prepared for the effects of Omicron,” Carlito Galvez, the country’s vaccination chief, told CNN Philippines on Monday.
The spread of the Omicron variant, which the World Health Organization has described as a “variant of concern,” has sparked global travel restrictions and rattled financial markets.
The Philippines has faced one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia and has been slower than many of its neighbors in immunizing its people. About 35.6 million people have been fully vaccinated, or a third of its 110 million population.
The country aims to immunize 54 million people by the end of 2021 and 77 million by next March.
New infections have fallen sharply to an average of 1,679 a day in November from a peak of 18,579 average daily cases in September, paving the way for a wider economic reopening.
Vaccination rates have remained uneven, with 93 percent of the capital region’s residents fully inoculated as of mid-November compared with 10.9 percent of the predominantly Muslim regions in the southern Philippines, government data show.
The government has said it would deploy 160,000 volunteers in 11,000 vaccination sites nationwide for the three-day campaign.


Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over COVID-19 variant

Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over COVID-19 variant
Updated 29 November 2021

Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over COVID-19 variant

Japan to bar new foreign arrivals over COVID-19 variant
  • Decision that reverses a measure to allow some business travelers and students into Japan

TOKYO: Japan will reinstate tough border measures, barring all new foreign arrivals over the Omicron COVID-19 variant, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced Monday, just weeks after a softening of strict entry rules.
“We will ban the (new) entry of foreigners from around the world starting from November 30th,” Kishida told reporters, in a decision that reverses a measure to allow some business travelers and students into Japan.