Concerned about new variant, Asian countries move to tighten COVID-19 measures

SINGAPORE, Nov. 26 (Reuters) – Asian countries rushed to tighten restrictions after a new and potentially vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant was discovered in South Africa, with Singapore and India announcing stricter border controls and tougher COVID-19 testing on Friday.

Scientists are still learning about the new variant, which was first identified early this week, but the news rocked financial markets on Friday, with stocks in Asia experiencing their sharpest drop in three months and oil falling. more than 3% plummeted. read more

The variant, called B.1.1.529, has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

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Alarmed by the variant, Britain temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from Friday and asked returning British travelers from those destinations to quarantine. read more

Singapore quickly joined Britain and the health ministry said on Friday it would restrict arrivals from South Africa and nearby countries as a precaution.

The Japanese government has also decided to tighten border controls for visitors from South Africa and five other African countries, the Jiji news service reported. The State Department did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment. read more

After easing some travel restrictions earlier this month, India’s central government issued an advice to all states to rigorously test and screen international travelers from South Africa and other “risk countries”. read more

Asian countries have outperformed those in other regions in managing the pandemic by imposing strict preventive measures, rigorous testing and strict border controls.

The new variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different from that in the original coronavirus on which COVID-19 vaccines are based, the UK Health Security Agency added.

Taiwan said travelers from high-risk South African countries must spend 14 days in government-run quarantine facilities.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Reuters that New Zealand was well prepared for the new variant. Earlier this week, New Zealand said it would reopen its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers from April 30. read more

When asked whether those plans should be delayed because of the new variant, Ardern said the country had “some built-in measures to act as a layer of protection.”

“In all of our planning around COVID, we have built in the possibility of variants going forward,” Ardern said in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next conference.

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Reporting by Chen Lin in Singapore, Neha Arora in New Delhi, Rocky Swift in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Jane Wardell in Sydney; Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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