New Zealand and Other Asia Pacific Countries Respond to Omicron3 min read
New Zealand said on Tuesday that it was pushing back a phased opening of its borders to the end of February, in another indication of how countries throughout the Asia Pacific region are scrambling to respond to the threat of the Omicron variant.
New Zealand also postponed its plans to allow its citizens living in Australia to return without quarantining starting on Jan. 17. Now the program will not start until the end of February.
New Zealand has detected 22 cases of Omicron in international arrivals, but no community cases of the variant have been reported. In the event of an outbreak, the government intends to replace lockdowns of the past with more targeted measures, Chris Hipkins, the Covid-19 response minister, said.
“It’s not our intention to move to lockdowns unless that is absolutely necessary in the event of a widespread outbreak, where our health system becomes under considerable strain and the overall health risk becomes too much to bear,” he said.
In other measures to limit the new variant’s eventual spread, the government said that residents would get access to a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine sooner — at four months instead of six — after their second shot.
New Zealand is one of several countries in the region that are tightening restrictions or considering tougher quarantine rules as cases of the variant rise.
In Japan, which closed its borders to all nonresident foreigners last month, an outbreak of 180 cases at an American military base has also raised fears of a resurgence. The virus was first detected at the base on the southern island of Okinawa on Friday, the authorities said, adding that it was unclear how many of those people had been sickened by Omicron. The government has asked the United States to increase restrictions on and around the base, a top Japanese health official said on Monday.
Just a few weeks after reopening to foreign tourists, Thailand said on Tuesday that it was pausing its quarantine-free travel program until Jan. 4 because of concern about the variant.
In Indonesia, where only 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the government has banned entry by foreign nationals from several countries in Africa and Europe. The government has said it is considering increasing the quarantine period for Indonesian citizens arriving from those countries to 14 days from 10, local news outlets reported.
And in Australia, the Omicron variant is coursing through the community and has even reached Yulara, a remote community more than 1,000 miles south of the nearest coastal city, Darwin. Two workers who had flown there from Brisbane tested positive, the health authorities said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted, however, that the country would not return to harsh lockdowns.
“Yes, we’re going to need to continue to calibrate how we manage this virus and how we live with this virus in the face of Omicron,” Mr. Morrison said on Tuesday. But, he added: “We’re not going back to lockdowns. We’re not going back to shutting down people’s lives.”