Omicron – Asia Pacific Countries Rush to Impose Travel Restrictions

Governments across Asia are tightening entry requirements and quarantine rules for travellers in response to the Omicron variant, and some countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines have totally banning the entry of travellers from high risk countries from southern Africa.

However, with cases being reported in Hong Kong, South Korea and Australia and Italy among others, expectations are that the fresh travel restrictions may apply to arrivals from these places.

So far, Singapore has refrained from reversing course on its Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) scheme except to defer the VTLs with Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia due to their proximity to Africa. Instead it choosing to step up testing for travelers and pause further easing of travel and social curbs. All incoming air travellers including returning residents and those transiting through Changi Airport will be subject to a pre-departure test and an on-arrival PCR test. Those who arrive in Singapore on VTL flights from Friday will be required to undergo additional antigen rapid tests on the third and seventh days of their arrival.
Hong Kong was among the first to first to act. Since Monday, it has added at least 16 countries – including Japan and Australia – to its high-risk Group A tier, meaning a 21-day quarantine period for returning residents and a complete ban on non-residents.

Indonesian nationals who have travelled to any of the 11 countries on the temporary travel ban list will have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Indonesia. Indonesian and international travellers arriving from elsewhere will have to quarantine for one week.

Under the Test & Go scheme in place since Thailand’s reopening on November 1, the country has allowed travellers from 63 nations and territories to enter and take the RT-PCR test upon arrival. That test takes hours to provide results, and travellers are presently required to spend at least one night at a hotel while they wait. This had prompted a plan to replace the RT-PCR tests with antigen tests from mid-December though this change may now be reviewed.

Also from December 1, arrivals from other African countries will no longer be eligible to enter Thailand under the Sandbox programme. However, arrivals from those other African countries will still be allowed to arrive in Thailand and quarantine for 14 days, during which time they will be required to take three RT-PCR tests.

South Korea will immediately tighten immigration inspections shortly after health authorities reported the nation’s first suspected case of the Omicron variant.

Japan has announced that any foreign national without permanent residency cannot enter the country from Thursday. Japanese nationals and foreigners with permanent residency status now required to spend up to 10 days in a government-designated isolation facility. Japan has also suspended all new flight bookings into the country from Wednesday, ignoring a World Health Organisation warning against blanket travel bans.

Australia has delayed by two weeks its plans to reopen its borders from Wednesday to skilled migrants and foreign students. Mandatory two-week quarantine has been enforced for citizens returning from southern African countries. Vaccinated Australians reaching Sydney and Melbourne from all other countries must now quarantine for 72 hours. Other states have not opened their international borders yet.

New Zealand would move into a system of living with the Covid-19 virus later this week and plans to keep borders closed to most international travellers for a further five months.

In a travel advisory, the World Health Organization warned the bans could ultimately dissuade countries from sharing data about the evolving virus. But it did advise unvaccinated people vulnerable to Covid-19, including over-60s, to avoid travel to areas with community transmission of the virus.

So far, well over a dozen countries and territories have detected Omicron cases, including Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Britain, Canada, Israel, Italy and Portugal.

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