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Japan Does a 180 on Controversial Omicron Policy

And more on what omicron means around the globe
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 1, 2021 8:47 AM CST
Updated Dec 2, 2021 12:07 AM CST
WHO Issues Warning to Older Travelers Amid Omicron
Flight cancellations are seen on the information board at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Tuesday.   (Shinji Kita/Kyodo News via AP)

(Newser) Update: Just one day after announcing a recommendation that quickly became quite controversial, Japan is changing its tune. The country's transport ministry on Thursday said it was retracting its request that airlines stop taking reservations for people coming in to Japan until the new year, the AP reports. Our original rundown from Wednesday follows:

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Although South Africa has been making most of the headlines regarding the omicron variant, that mutation of the coronavirus has increasingly been popping up in numerous other countries, including Australia, Canada, Brazil, Japan, and at least a dozen or so EU nations. We can now add Saudi Arabia to that list: According to the kingdom's official state news agency, an infected patient there is a citizen from a "North African country" who's since been quarantined, as have his close contacts, per the AP. The news outlet notes it's the first reported case of the variant from Gulf Arab nations. More developments on the omicron front:

  • Nigerian timeline: While South Africa just sent word of its discovery of omicron this month, Nigeria's national public health institute is now saying it has detected the variant in a sample that was taken in October, reports the AP. This makes it the first West African nation to register an official case of omicron.
  • Japan's ask: CNN reports that Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism has requested (not mandated) that starting Wednesday, airlines stop taking new reservations for inbound international flights until the new year, even from Japanese citizens stuck abroad.

  • US restrictions: A CDC spokesman said late Tuesday that the agency is working on tightening up travel guidelines to the US, reports Reuters. Although details are still being hashed out, new rules may require air travelers coming into the States to show a negative COVID test within one day of departure, even if they're vaccinated. Unvaccinated travelers already have that mandate, but the vaccinated are currently able to show their negative results within three days of their trip. Foreign nationals, for the most part, are required to be vaxxed before entering the country.
  • World Health Organization warning: The WHO on Tuesday cautioned those who are unvaccinated or who haven't had COVID before, as well as individuals "at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older," should hold off on traveling at all for now to areas with community transmission, reports CBS News. The WHO includes people with comorbidities such as diabetes and cancer in its warning.
  • Pronunciation debate: Unrelated to travel, a dispute has emerged over the word "omicron" itself, specifically on how to pronounce it. The New York Times says most in the US seem to say "AH-muh-kraan," per Merriam-Webster, while others are using "OH-my-kraan," "OH-mee-kraan" (UK PM Boris Johnson's preference), or "o-MIKE-ron." Still, those who are reporting on the virus aren't stressing too much about it. "I don't think it really matters that much, honestly," says Times science journalist Apoorva Mandavilli, who uses the M-W version.
(Read more omicron variant stories.)

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