Japan on Monday joined Israel and Morocco in sealing its borders to all foreign travelers in response to the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, said that Japan would reverse a move earlier this month to reopen its borders to short-term business travelers and international students. Japan has been closed to tourists since early in the pandemic, a policy it has maintained even as other wealthy nations reopened to vaccinated visitors.
The emergence of the Omicron variant in southern Africa has left countries around the world scrambling to respond, with some instituting or considering sweeping travel bans, while others have put in place more focused, but also more discriminatory, border prohibitions.
Only four weeks ago, Israel fully reopened to vaccinated tourists after it had barred foreign visitors early in the pandemic. But by midnight between Sunday and Monday, its borders were expected to again be closed to foreigners.
Hours after Israel announced its blanket ban over the weekend, Morocco said on Sunday that it would deny entry to all travelers, even Moroccan citizens, for two weeks beginning Monday. The country is banning all incoming and outgoing flights over the two-week period.
The moves by Japan, Israel and Morocco stood in contrast to those in places like the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Union, which have all announced bans on travelers only from southern Africa.
Those bans have triggered a wave of resentment among Africans who believed that the continent was yet again bearing the brunt of panicked policies from Western countries, which had failed to deliver vaccines and the resources needed to administer them.
In Japan, all foreign travelers except those who are residents of the country will be barred from entering starting at midnight on Monday.
In Israel, all foreign nationals will be banned from entering for at least 14 days, except for urgent humanitarian cases to be approved by a special exceptions committee. Returning vaccinated Israelis will be tested upon landing and must self-quarantine for three days, pending results of another P.C.R. test. Unvaccinated Israelis will have to self-quarantine for seven days.
Israelis returning from countries classified as “red,” with high risk of infection, including most African countries, must enter a quarantine hotel until they receive a negative result from the airport test, then transfer to home quarantine (until they get a 7-day PCR test result).
Ran Balicer, the chairman of an expert panel that advises the Israeli government on Covid-19 response, said the decision was temporary and was taken out of prudence because most nations likely are not yet capable of detecting the variant yet.
Japan has yet to report any cases of the new variant, though it is studying a case involving a traveler from Namibia. Israel has identified at least one confirmed case of Omicron so far — a woman who arrived from Malawi — and testing has provided indications of several more likely cases in the country.
Israel only recently emerged from a fourth wave of the virus , when it recorded one of the world’s highest rates of daily cases from the Delta strain. Officials attributed the containment of that outbreak to a rapid rollout of booster shots that began in August, after Israeli scientists detected waning immunity in people five or six months after they had received their second Pfizer shot.
In an effort to get ahead of the next crisis, the Israeli government held a drill code-named “Omega” this month to test nationwide preparations for the outbreak of a new, lethal Covid variant.
Israel’s Covid policy now revolves around trying to keep the economy fully open and avoid internal lockdowns, while strictly controlling the borders.