Hong Kong and Ecuador join ranks of countries imposing new restrictions, cases rise in Australia and Canada, but stock markets bounce back
More countries have imposed travel restrictions on visitors from other parts of the world in order to try to contain the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, as China pledged to send 600m vaccine doses to Africa.
As cases of Omicron continued to grow around the world from Japan to Reunion Island, Hong Kong widened its ban on non-residents entering the city on Tuesday to include visitors who have been to Australia, Canada, Israel or six European countries in the past 21 days. Non-resident arrivals from four southern African nations have already been barred.
Ecuador joined the move to tighten border by imposing entry restrictions on travellers flying from or via a number of African countries. It would also request vaccine certificates from those arriving from other countries due to the new Omicron strain of coronavirus, president Guillermo Lasso said late on Monday.
With the announcement Ecuador joins other countries across the globe in restricting travel in response to the Omicron strain, which carries a very high risk of increased infection, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The head of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the emergence of the new strain in South Africa last week showed how “hard-won gains could vanish in an instant”. He told a special session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva that “Covid-19 is not done with us”.
Media in Japan reported that the first case of Omicron was recorded on Tuesday, while a person has tested positive for Omicron on the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion, it was reported on Tuesday, citing an official researcher on the island. The 35-year-old person had recently travelled to Mozambique.
Amid concern about the gulf between vaccine rates in developed countries and less wealthy ones, China has pledged to donate 600m doses of its Covid-19 vaccines to Africa.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, made the promise in a video speech to the opening ceremony of a China-Africa forum on economic cooperation in Senegal on Monday. He said China would supply 1bn doses in all. The other 400m are to come through other routes such as production by Chinese companies in Africa.
“We need to put people and their lives first, be guided by science, support waiving intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines, and truly ensure the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in Africa to bridge the immunisation gap,” Xi said.
Stock markets in Asia made a good recovery on Tuesday after steep falls in values in recent days brought on by concerns about Omicron. The Nikkei in Tokyo led the way by lifting 0.5% while the ASX200 was up more than 1% in Sydney.
“We’ll get a new variant, we’ll get new waves, but the market – and we all as investors – will see how that might play out,” Jason Brady, president at Thornburg Investment Management in Hong Kong, told Bloomberg.
In the United States, president Joe Biden said Omicron was a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic”, as the US implemented restrictions on travel from South Africa and several other countries.
Biden urged all Americans to get vaccinated, including booster shots, saying it was the best protection against the new variant. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighed in by saying on Monday that everyone aged 18 years and older should get a booster shot.
Canada saw another two cases on Monday, taking its total to five, and the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, also appealed to the public to make sure they were vaccinated.
“Let’s be clear: getting vaccinated is the best thing you can do right now,” Trudeau said in a tweet on Monday night local time.
“So, if you don’t have your shots yet, get them. And now that we have enough vaccine doses for every kid between the ages of 5 and 11 to get their first shot, make sure you get your kids vaccinated, too.”
The UK government is planning to reboot its vaccination programme back to levels seen earlier in the pandemic when around 500,000 jabs a day were being administered. In addition, ministers cut the waiting time for boosters to three months in a bid to outpace the Omicron variant that scientists believe is already spreading in the community.
There were 11 confirmed cases of Omicron in England and Scotland on Monday, with hundreds more expected in the coming days. From Tuesday, masks will be mandatory on public transport including airports and stations, and in shops.
Two arrivals into Australia have tested positive to Omicron, becoming the first cases in the country. The pair are in quarantine in Sydney after arriving from Johannesburg via Qatar on Saturday.
Authorities in Singapore said on Tuesday that two travellers who tested positive for Omicron in Sydney transited through Changi airport. And a fifth person is self-isolating with the Omicron strain after returning to Australia from southern Africa before the variant emerged last week.