The borderless nature of the virus, Mr. Guterres said, means that “travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive — they are ineffective.”

Although the United States is not weighing the kind of blanket travel ban on foreign visitors imposed by Japan, the restrictions being weighed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States are stirring widespread concern. The agency is considering requiring travelers to provide a negative result from a test taken within 24 hours before departure, a spokesman said on Tuesday night.

Though the C.D.C. has yet to officially announce the changes, the prospect sent travelers searching for updates, booking pre-emptive tests where they could, and scouring airline websites for reservation changes, as the pandemic threatened to upend another December travel season.

Carlos Valencia, a dual Spanish-American citizen whose Seville-based company operates a study abroad program for American students, had planned to return to the United States in January. But he said that he would put the trip on hold until “there is at least some clarity about whether the new rules make a trip feasible.”

Whatever shape the restrictions take, he said, they are “way overdone — especially when you consider how lax the U.S.A. has been with getting people to wear face masks and its own health safety measures.”

Emanuela Giorgetti, a teacher in northern Italy, was hoping to join her fiancé, whom she has not seen for almost two years, for Christmas in Chicago. “When I heard the news,” she said, “I thought, ‘Here we go again.’”

Given the potential threat posed by Omicron, she said she understood the impulse to tighten the rules. But it still seemed unfair.

“We have more vaccinated people in Italy than in the U.S., we wear masks indoors and try to go by the rules,” Ms. Giorgetti said.

Reporting was contributed by Nick Cumming-Bruce, Rick Gladstone, Raphael Minder, Gaia Pianigiani, Michael D. Shear and John Yoon.

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Vaccine Hesitancy Hurts Covid Fight in Poorer Countries

JOHANNESBURG — The detection of the Omicron variant in southern Africa signals the next stage of the battle against Covid-19: getting many more people inoculated in poorer nations where vaccines have been scarcest in order to deter new mutations from developing.

But while world leaders sometimes talk about this as if it were largely a matter of delivering doses overseas, the experience of South Africa, at least, hints at a far more complex set of challenges.

Like many poor countries, South Africa was made to wait months for vaccines as wealthier countries monopolized them. Many countries still do not have anywhere near enough vaccines to inoculate their populations.

The problems have not ended as shots began arriving in greater numbers.

Neglected and underfunded public health infrastructure has slowed their delivery, especially to rural areas, where storage and staffing problems are common.

turned away shipments of doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson, worried that their stockpile of 16 million shots might spoil amid insufficient demand.

Dr. Saad Omer, a Yale University epidemiologist, and they have had a deeper effect.

have said. In several countries, fewer than half say they intend to get vaccinated.

sometimes-violent resistance in rural communities. Vaccine hesitancy rates there approach 50 percent among those who have not completed high school. In some parts of the country, more than a third of doses spoil amid the low demand.

Still, many are eager to be vaccinated. When doses first became widely available in South Africa earlier this year, a third of the country’s adults swiftly got inoculated, a pattern that is repeating elsewhere.

allegations of corruption amid last year’s lockdown, have heightened public unease.

“There’s a lack of confidence in the public health system’s ability to provide vaccines,” said Chris Vick, the founder of Covid Comms, a South African nonprofit group.

The group has been holding vaccine information sessions, but overcoming skepticism is not easy. After a session in the Pretoria township of Atteridgeville, one 20-year-old who attended said she had not been persuaded.

briefly pause delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, leading South Africa to delay its rollout to health care workers. Both countries decided to resume the shots after concluding that they were safe.

The South African government held regular briefings, but these were on television and in English, when radio remains the most powerful medium and most South Africans do not speak English as their mother tongue.

a recent study found. That is in part because of mistrust of the Black-led government, but also because American Covid conspiracists have found wide reach among white South Africans on social media, according to Mr. Vick of Covid Comms.

Covid pill from Merck for high-risk adults, the first in a new class of antiviral drugs that could work against a wide range of variants, including Omicron. The pill could be authorized within days, and available by year’s end.

The first modern, worldwide campaign, begun in 1959 against smallpox, provoked deep skepticism in parts of Africa and Asia, where it was seen as a continuation of colonial-era medical abuses. Some W.H.O. officials used physical force to vaccinate people, deepening distrust. The campaign took 28 years.

The effort to eradicate polio, which finally ramped up in poor countries in the 1980s and is still ongoing, has run into similar resistance. A study in the science journal Nature found that vaccine avoidance was highest among poor or marginalized groups, who believed that the health authorities, and especially Western governments, would never voluntarily help them.

In Nigeria in the early 2000s, amid a spike in religious tensions, unfounded rumors circulated that foreign health workers were using polio vaccines as cover to sterilize the country’s Muslim population. Boycotts and local bans led to a polio resurgence, with cases spreading to 15 other countries, as far as Southeast Asia.

survey by the Africa Center for Disease Control found that 43 percent of those polled believe Africans are used as guinea pigs in vaccine trials — a legacy of Western drug companies’ doing exactly this in the 1990s.

Even within their own borders, Western governments are struggling to overcome vaccine resistance. So it is hard to imagine them doing better in faraway societies where they lack local understanding.

Any appearance of Western powers forcing unwanted vaccines into African or Asian arms risks deepening the backlash.

“If the objective is to keep the U.S. and the rest of the world safe, it should be pretty obvious that the success of the domestic program depends on what happens internationally,” Dr. Omer said.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Nairobi.

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World Omicron Fight Hindered by Fragmented Response

ROME — In a wrenchingly familiar cycle of tracking first cases, pointing fingers and banning travel, nations worldwide reacted Monday to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the piecemeal fashion that has defined — and hobbled — the pandemic response all along.

As here-we-go-again fear and resignation gripped much of the world, the World Health Organization warned that the risk posed by the heavily mutated variant was “very high.” But operating once again in a vacuum of evidence, governments chose approaches that differed between continents, between neighboring countries, and even between cities within those countries.

Little is known about Omicron beyond its large number of mutations; it will be weeks, at least, before scientists can say with confidence whether it is more contagious — early evidence suggests it is — whether it causes more serious illness, and how it responds to vaccines.

In China, which had been increasingly alone in sealing itself off as it sought to eradicate the virus, a newspaper controlled by the Communist Party gloated about democracies that are now following suit as Japan, Australia and other countries gave up flirting with a return to normalcy and slammed their borders shut to the world. The West, it said, had hoarded vaccines at the expense of poorer regions, and was now paying a price for its selfishness.

announced that government employees, health care workers and staff and students at most schools must be vaccinated by Jan. 22.

tied to a single soccer team — and Scotland reported six, while the numbers in South Africa continued to soar.

Experts warned that the variant will reach every part of the world, if it hasn’t already.

The leaders of the world’s top powers insisted that they understood this, but their assurances also had a strong whiff of geopolitics.

President Xi Jinping of China offered one billion doses of Covid vaccine to Africa, on top of nearly 200 million that Beijing has already shipped to the continent, during an address to a conference in Senegal by video link.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, boasted of China’s success in thwarting virus transmission, and said the West was now paying the price for its selfish policies. “Western countries control most of the resources needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” it wrote. “But they have failed to curb the spread of the virus and have exposed more and more developing countries to the virus.”

told France Inter radio on Monday that variants would continue to emerge unless richer countries shared more vaccines. “We need a much more systemic approach,” she said.

“zero Covid” strategy.

China has steadfastly kept a high wall against visitors from the rest of the world. Foreign residents and visa holders are allowed in only under limited circumstances, leading to concerns by some within the business world that Covid restrictions were leaving the country increasingly isolated.

Visitors must submit to two-week quarantines upon arrival and face potential limits on their movement after that. Movements are tracked via monitoring smartphone apps, which display color codes that can signal whether a person has traveled from or through an area with recent infections, triggering instructions to remain in one place.

In other parts of Asia, people are less focused on eradicating the virus than just surviving it.

“This news is terrifying,” said Gurinder Singh, 57, in New Delhi, who worried about his shop going under. “If this virus spreads in India, the government will shut the country again, and we will be forced to beg.”

Reporting was contributed by Declan Walsh from Nairobi, Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem, Carlos Tejada from Seoul, Sameer Yasir from Srinagar, India, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Aurelien Breeden from Paris, Elian Peltier and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels, Megan Specia from London, Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin, Emma Bubola from Rome and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.

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Virgil Abloh, artistic director for Louis Vuitton and Off-White founder, dies of cancer at 41

Virgil Abloh, the acclaimed menswear designer for Louis Vuitton and founder and CEO of Off-White, died Sunday of cancer, according to a post from his verified Instagram account. He was 41.

“We are devastated to announce the passing of our beloved Virgil Abloh, a fiercely devoted father, husband, son, brother, and friend. He is survived by his loving wife Shannon Abloh, his children Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh, his sister Edwina Abloh, his parents Nee and Eunice Abloh, and numerous dear friends and colleagues,” the post read.

“For over two years, Virgil valiantly battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma. He chose to endure his battle privately since his diagnosis in 2019, undergoing numerous challenging treatments, all while helming several significant institutions that span fashion, art, and culture.”

Virgil Abloh pictured outside an event in Paris in July this year.

Virgil Abloh pictured outside an event in Paris in July this year. Credit: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

Abloh was a true multi-hyphenate — first, and foremost a fashion designer, who before making history as Louis Vuitton’s first Black artistic director, founded the cult streetwear label Off-White.

At Louis Vuitton, he brought in a younger demographic, with menswear collections that blurred the lines between high fashion and streetwear, as well as pushed artistic boundaries and challenged gender norms. A sparkly “embroidered bib” he designed, for example, became an instant talking point when it was worn by Timothée Chalamet to the Golden Globes in 2019. Other versions were donned by Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman.

Famous for cross-collaborations, one of Abloh’s greatest legacies was his contribution to the world of footwear — setting the standard for innovative sneakers, in edition after edition of Off-White x Nike designs.

Kanye West and Virgil Abloh pose after the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring-Summer 2019 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on June 21, 2018 in Paris, France.

Kanye West and Virgil Abloh pose after the Louis Vuitton Menswear Spring-Summer 2019 show as part of Paris Fashion Week on June 21, 2018 in Paris, France. Credit: Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/French Select/Getty Images

He was also big in the world of music, and as a prolific DJ, played at music venues around the world. As a longstanding collaborator of Kanye West, now known as Ye, he worked as a creative director for the rapper’s design agency Donda, and designed some of Ye’s album covers. As an artist and furniture designer, he collaborated with the likes of Mercedes Benz on an art concept car and IKEA on a coveted range aimed at people moving into their first homes.

Tributes poured in overnight for the late designer, who was one of fashion’s most powerful Black men, in an industry that notoriously lacks diversity. Harlem couturier Daniel Day, known as Dapper Dan, spoke to the point in an Instagram post, writing “Virgil’s life was a testament to how much Black Lives Matter by showing what black lives are capable of.

“His march took him to the top of luxury fashion. Virgil started out as a foot soldier but died a general.”

British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful called him “a giant among men,” on Instagram, writing that Abloh always worked “to open the door to art and fashion for future generations, so that that they — unlike himself, would grow up in a creative world with people to mirror themselves in.”

Virgil Abloh speaking on his design philosophy at Design Miami in 2016

Models Gigi Hadid and Hailey Bieber also took to social media, with the latter writing that Abloh was “a once in a generation creative mind,” who altered the way she looked at street style and fashion. Accompanying the Instagram post was a photo of Bieber with Abloh, who custom-designed her lace wedding dress in 2019.

Poet Amanda Gorman, who wore a vibrant garment designed by Abloh for her Vogue cover in May, wrote that she was “privileged” to have met him and to have worn “such a beautiful piece designed in honor of your grandmother.

“I knew then I was experiencing the honor of wearing a designer whose work transcends both past and present.”

The luxury group LVMH, which owns Louis Vuitton, tweeted about his death and, in a statement, quoted LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault: “We are all shocked after this terrible news. Virgil was not only a genius designer, a visionary, he was also a man with a beautiful soul and great wisdom.”

LVMH had accquired a majority stake in Off-White this July in an agreement that all sides hoped would begin a new chapter.

“I’m also honored to use this partnership to deepen my longstanding commitment to expand opportunities for diverse individuals and foster greater equity and inclusion in the industries we serve,” Abloh said at the time. “This is an incredible new platform to take the disruption we’ve achieved together to a whole new level.”

Abloh, the son of Ghanaian immigrants, was born in 1980 in Rockford, Illinois. He earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and completed a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology; a foundation that would later influence his broader practice.

“My career trajectory started in design in a more traditional multidisciplinary sense, within architecture and engineering before I (started in) fashion,” he told CNN in a 2020 interview.

“I look at my work as metaphoric — what can exist in different disciplines of design, how you can form a new design language, and engage a younger audience, across icons, using some different techniques and investigations.”

Abloh was named among Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2018, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presented an exhibition of the work of “genre-bending artist and designer” in 2019.
Before his untimely death, he was working on plans for a Louis Vuitton fashion show in Miami, Florida, to coincide with the opening of a new men’s store in the city. A presentation of his Spring-Summer 2022 collection will go ahead at 5.30pm ET on Tuesday November 30, according to an update posted from Louis Vuitton’s official Twitter account.

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This could be the future of first class airplane travel

(CNN) — First class is on its way out at many airlines, as business class seats and mini-suites become larger, more private and more luxurious — and fewer budgets stretch to adding on what might be an extra zero on the price tag for first class.

But it’s not going away completely.

Yes, that luxurious international carrier you’re thinking of is probably going to keep it going. So is the other one with the famous flight attendant uniform and the big global hub, or the celebrity spokesperson, the soccer sponsorship, and the massive route network connecting you to far-flung reaches of the world.

It probably won’t look the same though. As smaller premium aircraft replace the A380 and 747 giants of the sky, designers are looking to radically rethink what first class will look like.

So why is first class still going to be a thing? Part of it is what Anthony Harcup, senior director at design house Teague — which has designed jet cabins in partnership with Boeing all the way back to the 707 — calls the “halo effect.”

“Having a first class cabin has a powerful halo effect — presenting the airline’s passenger offer at its very best,” Harcup says. “That was very much the challenge when designing Etihad’s First Apartments on their A380s.”

Harcup knows what he’s talking about. In a previous role, he was the design lead and named inventor of both the First Apartments and The Residence first-class-plus suites on Abu Dhabi-based Etihad’s Airbus A380 aircraft.

Ultra exclusive

Etihad's The Residence is a full one-bedroom suite.

Etihad’s The Residence is a full one-bedroom suite.

KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

The Residence is a full one-bedroom suite, with a full-sized bed for up to two passengers fitting into what’s known as the “forehead” space at the front of the upper deck of the Airbus A380 — which Emirates uses as first class shower rooms and most other airlines leave as a slightly unloved sofa space for business class — and a two-seater sofa as the “seat.”

The First Apartment design took the radical step of turning the suite on its side — quite literally, with the bed at 90 degrees from the direction of the aircraft’s travel, with a separate armchair for seating.

Etihad's First Apartments sited beds at 90 degrees to the direction of travel.

Etihad’s First Apartments sited beds at 90 degrees to the direction of travel.

KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images

“The new and transformational experience delivered by the First Apartments was that of choice,” Harcup explains. “For the first time passengers no longer had to sleep in the same place where they ate.”

It was an idea soon adopted elsewhere.

“A few years later,” Harcup says, “Singapore brought out a dedicated seat and bed ‘room’ type product too — again on the A380 upper deck… a unique cabin in a unique location that lends itself well to a single aisle layout.”

Boeing’s 747, similarly, allowed airlines to create first class cabins in the ultra-quiet and ultra-exclusive nose cabins of the iconic jetliner.

But with 747 and A380 production ending, and many airlines choosing to retire rather than refit their jumbos and superjumbos in the age of uncertain demand after Covid-19, there are fewer unique locations left for first class on the current and future flagships: Airbus’ A350 and Boeing’s 777, which are twin-aisle twin-engined jets whose cabins are essentially one big long rectangle.

Space challenges

Singapore's first class also offers beds at a 90 degree angle.

Singapore’s first class also offers beds at a 90 degree angle.

TOH TING WEI/AFP via Getty Images

That makes creating a space that feels unique and premium particularly challenging, especially with airlines deciding to cut the number of first class seats in many cases.

“In view of the trend to provide a small number of ultra-premium first class seats we designed the ultimate first class cabin concept,” Harcup says. “Teague’s new cabin, the Four Seasons, delivers uncompromising luxury, choice and privacy without walls — through simple, lightweight, solid-state design.”

The Four Seasons, no connection to the hotel brand of the same name, is generous with that most coveted of onboard resources: space.

Where other layouts would have eight seats that convert to beds — four window seats and four center seats — Teague is suggesting two pairs of seats in the center, and four full-time beds by the windows.

Each passenger’s personal space is therefore split across the aisle, with their seat in the middle and their bed at the window.

To add privacy, the first row faces forward and the second row faces backward, meaning that passengers won’t see each other over the high-backed separators even before the floor-to-ceiling privacy curtains are put in place.

A powered divider between seats in the same row means that passengers traveling together can eat and relax together, but there’s no option for a convertible double bed like some of the current first class cabins.

As for pricing, you’re looking at adding a couple of zeroes onto the price of an economy class trip. An example flight in economy for 14 hours or so might be $900 in economy, $3,500 in business but over $10,000 in first class — and that’s before you get to these new, more spacious and ultra-luxurious spaces.

And passengers will buy it — some of them, at least, explains Addison Schonland of aviation analysis group AirInsight.

“There will be airlines out there that continue to offer first class, and suppliers who will continue to build those seats, for the passengers willing to pay the big bucks to fly in them,” he says.

Jewel in the crown

Four Seasons cabin concept by Teague

Teague’s Four Seasons design has permanent beds.

Teague

Teague’s Four Seasons is just one option for airlines, which need to start thinking about what their cabins will look like at least two-three years ahead of delivery, in order to enable the spaces to be designed, specified, safety certified and installed on the aircraft at the Airbus or Boeing factories in Toulouse and Seattle.

For designers, there will also be options around what surrounds the cabin, as usually there is a small galley kitchen at the front behind the flight deck, with business class sitting directly behind first class.

Adding a bar or other shared space into the cabin may also shake things up for an airline looking to still highlight the luxuriousness of its flying to prospective passengers.

“Removing first class altogether and losing the jewel in the crown of the airline’s seating portfolio is a challenging message to communicate,” Harcup tells CNN.

Instead, “it makes far more sense to reduce the size of the first class cabin and restrict it to a small number of aircraft. That way the airline contains the financial risk and maintains the brand equity of the first class ‘billboard moment,'” Harcup explains.

But with increasingly spacious and luxurious business class seats and mini-suites with their own doors, making the first class experience properly luxurious will be vital to keep airlines’ halo products gleaming.

Top image credit: Teague

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As World Shuts Borders to Stop Omicron, Japan Offers a Cautionary Tale

TOKYO — With the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus late last week, countries across the globe rushed to close their borders to travelers from southern Africa, even in the absence of scientific information about whether such measures were necessary or likely to be effective in stopping the virus’s spread.

Japan has gone further than most other countries so far, announcing on Monday that the world’s third-largest economy would be closed off to travelers from everywhere.

It is a familiar tactic for Japan. The country has barred tourists since early in the pandemic, even as most of the rest of the world started to travel again. And it had only tentatively opened this month to business travelers and students, despite recording the highest vaccination rate among the world’s large wealthy democracies and after seeing its coronavirus caseloads plunge by 99 percent since August.

Now, as the doors slam shut again, Japan provides a sobering case study of the human and economic cost of those closed borders. Over the many months that Japan has been isolated, thousands of life plans have been suspended, leaving couples, students, academic researchers and workers in limbo.

United States, Britain and most of Europe reopened over the summer and autumn to vaccinated travelers, Japan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region opened their borders only a crack, even after achieving some of the world’s highest vaccination rates. Now, with the emergence of the Omicron variant, Japan, along with Australia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea, are quickly battening down again.

outbreak of the Delta variant.

Japan is recording only about 150 coronavirus cases a day, and before the emergence of the Omicron variant, business leaders had been calling for a more aggressive reopening.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, Japan did what most countries around the world did — we thought we needed proper border controls,” Yoshihisa Masaki, director of communications at Keidanren, Japan’s largest business lobbying group, said in an interview earlier this month.

But as cases diminished, he said, the continuation of firm border restrictions threatened to stymie economic progress. “It will be like Japan being left behind in the Edo Period,” Mr. Masaki said, referring to Japan’s isolationist era between the 17th and mid-19th centuries.

Thailand had recently reopened to tourists from 63 countries, and Cambodia had just started to welcome vaccinated visitors with minimal restrictions. Other countries, like Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia, were allowing tourists from certain countries to arrive in restricted areas.

Wealthier Asian countries like Japan resisted the pressure to reopen. With the exception of its decision to hold the Summer Olympics, Japan has been cautious throughout the pandemic. It was early to shut its borders and close schools. It rolled out its vaccination campaign only after conducting its own clinical trials. And dining and drinking hours remained restricted in many prefectures until September.

Foreign companies could not bring in executives or other employees to replace those who were moving back home or to another international posting, said Michael Mroczek, a lawyer in Tokyo who is president of the European Business Council.

In a statement on Monday, the council said business travelers or new employees should be allowed to enter provided they follow strict testing and quarantine measures.

“Trust should be put in Japan’s success on the vaccination front,” the council said. “And Japan and its people are now firmly in a position to reap the economic rewards.”

Business leaders said they wanted science to guide future decisions. “Those of us who live and work in Japan appreciate that the government’s policies so far have substantially limited the impact of the pandemic here,” said Christopher LaFleur, former American ambassador to Malaysia and special adviser to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

But, he said, “I think we really need to look to the science over the coming days” to see whether a complete border shutdown is justified.

Students, too, have been thrown into uncertainty. An estimated 140,000 or more have been accepted to universities or language schools in Japan and have been waiting months to enter the country to begin their courses of study.

Carla Dittmer, 19, had hoped to move from Hanstedt, a town south of Hamburg, Germany, to Japan over the summer to study Japanese. Instead, she has been waking up every morning at 1 to join an online language class in Tokyo.

“I do feel anxious and, frankly speaking, desperate sometimes, because I have no idea when I would be able to enter Japan and if I will be able to keep up with my studies,” Ms. Dittmer said. “I can understand the need of caution, but I hope that Japan will solve that matter with immigration precautions such as tests and quarantine rather than its walls-up policy.”

The border closures have economically flattened many regions and industries that rely on foreign tourism.

When Japan announced its reopening to business travelers and international students earlier this month, Tatsumasa Sakai, 70, the fifth-generation owner of a shop that sells ukiyo-e, or woodblock prints, in Asakusa, a popular tourist destination in Tokyo, hoped that the move was a first step toward further reopening.

“Since the case numbers were going down, I thought that we could have more tourists and Asakusa could inch toward coming back to life again,” he said. “I guess this time, the government is just taking precautionary measures, but it is still very disappointing.”

Mr. Dery and Ms. Hirose also face a long wait. Mr. Dery, who met Ms. Hirose when they were both working at an automotive parts maker, returned to Indonesia in April 2020 after his Japanese work visa expired. Three months before he departed, he proposed to Ms. Hirose during an outing to the DisneySea amusement park near Tokyo.

Ms. Hirose had booked a flight to Jakarta for that May so that the couple could marry, but by then, the borders were closed in Indonesia.

“Our marriage plan fell apart,” Mr. Dery, 26, said by telephone from Jakarta. “There’s no clarity on how long the pandemic would last.”

Just last week, Mr. Dery secured a passport and was hoping to fly to Japan in February or March.

Upon hearing of Japan’s renewed border closures, he said he was not surprised. “I was hopeful,” he said. “But suddenly the border is about to close again.”

“I don’t know what else to do,” he added. “This pandemic seems endless.”

Reporting was contributed by Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue in Tokyo; Dera Menra Sijabat in Jakarta, Indonesia; Richard C. Paddock in Bangkok; John Yoon in Seoul; Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan; and Yan Zhuang in Sydney, Australia.

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Europe · 7:42 AM UTC

AMSTERDAM, Nov 26 (Reuters) – Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for COVID-19, and they were conducting further testing early Saturday to see if any of the infections are with the recently discovered Omicron coronavirus variant.

Around 600 passengers arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on the two KLM flights on Friday and then faced hours of delays and testing due to concerns over the new virus variant.

The Dutch health ministry said early Saturday 61 tests had come back positive.

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“Travelers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol,” health authorities said in a statement.

“Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named ‘Omicron’.”

The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday. Health Minister Hugo de Jonge determined that passengers already en route to the Netherlands would have to undergo testing and quarantine upon arrival.

Passengers on the two KLM flights, from Cape Town and Johannesburg, said they were kept waiting on the tarmac for hours.

“Vigorous applause because there is a BUS that has come to take us … somewhere,” tweeted New York Times journalist Stephanie Nolen, a passenger on the flight from Johannesburg who later said she had tested negative.

“Bus to a hall to a huge queue. I can see COVID testers in bright blue PPE far on the distance. Still no snacks for the sad babies,” she added in a second tweet.

A spokesperson for the health authorities in Kennemerland, the Dutch region that oversees Schiphol, said the positive cases were being analysed by an academic medical hospital to determine whether they are the new strain.

The new variant has been detected just as many European countries are grappling with a surge in coronavirus cases.

The Dutch government separately on Friday announced the nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores as it tries to curb a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is swamping its healthcare system. read more

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Reporting by Toby Sterling
Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Leslie Adler and Frances Kerry

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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India

NEW DELHI, Nov 26 (Reuters) – India said on Friday it will resume international passenger flights from mid-December with COVID-19 linked curbs for “at risk” countries, and ordered tightened screening at borders as fears over a new coronavirus variant spread globally.

The federal health ministry said reports of mutations in the variant, identified as B.1.1.529, had “serious public health implications”, and asked states to adopt rigorous screening and testing for all passengers from South Africa and other “at risk” countries.

“This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter to states late on Thursday.

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But India’s civil aviation ministry said it had decided to let airlines resume scheduled international flights from Dec. 15, lifting a nearly two-year-old ban imposed to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The resumption of flights would be based on the coronavirus risk levels of individual countries, according to a formal government order.

Some countries in Europe and Asia have rushed to tighten border controls and restrict travel because of the new variant.

India’s foreign ministry said there was no immediate information on steps the government was taking.

“This is a developing incident,” foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi told a news conference.

The federal health ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for further comment.

On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency said the new variant has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based and could make existing vaccines less effective.

Britain has banned flights from six African countries, and asked returning British travellers from those destinations to quarantine.

India, the world’s second-worst affected country by COVID-19, posted the smallest rise in new cases in one-and-a-half years this week, due to increased vaccinations and antibodies in a large section of its population from previous infections.

Its total cases of coronavirus reached 34.56 million on Friday. India’s daily caseload has halved since September and it reported 10,549 new cases on Friday.

Earlier this month, India identified 10 countries “at risk” including Europe, China, South Africa, and New Zealand, among others, and has opened its borders to 99 countries overall.

Indian shares fell more than 2% on Friday, in line with declines in markets across Asia as investors fled risky assets panicking over the potential impact of the new variant.

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Reporting by Neha Arora; Additional reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Giles Elgood and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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Europe

  • Lukashenko says he won’t force migrants to return home
  • Two flights with returning migrants arrive in Iraq
  • Two more flights planned on Nov. 26-27
  • Poland reports detention centre unrest

BRUZGI, Belarus/MOSCOW, Nov 26 (Reuters) – Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko told migrants stranded at the border with Poland on Friday that his country would help them to return home if they wanted but would not force them.

Thousands of migrants are stuck on the European Union’s eastern frontier, in what the EU says is a crisis Minsk engineered by distributing Belarusian visas in the Middle East, flying them in and pushing them across the border.

But Lukashenko said it was the EU that deliberately provoked a humanitarian crisis that needed to be resolved and he told the migrants he would not play politics with their fate.

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In his first public appearance at the border since the start of the crisis, Lukashenko met migrants at a warehouse turned into shelter and told them they were free to head west or go home as they chose.

An Iraqi teenager told Lukashenko she could not return home and hoped to continue on to Europe. “We won’t only hope,” Lukashenko answered. “We will work together on your dream.”

Lukashenko said no-one would be coerced.

“If you want to go westwards, we won’t detain you, choke you, beat you,” he said as hundreds of migrants applauded. “It’s up to you. Go through. Go.”

He added: “We won’t in any circumstances detain you, tie your hands and load you on planes to send you home if you don’t want that.”

‘HYBRID WAR’

Poland and other EU nations say the crisis is part of a “hybrid war” Minsk is waging in retaliation for EU sanctions imposed in response to Lukashenko’s crushing of protests against his disputed re-election last year and is designed to destabilise the bloc.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko speaks to migrants as he visits the transport and logistics centre Bruzgi on the Belarusian-Polish border, in the Grodno region, Belarus November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

The EU has agreed on new sanctions in response to the border crisis, which diplomats in Brussels say should be approved and adopted in early December.

Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, bearing the brunt of the crisis, have deployed thousands of border guards, soldiers and police to seal the border and push back migrants attempting to cross over from Belarus.

Lithuania on Friday said it could close its border crossings if more migrants attempted to cross from Belarus in trucks.

Belarus has begun to fly some migrants home, but has said it is waiting for an answer from the EU on its demand that Germany should accept 2,000 stranded at the border, which the EU has rejected and Germany has denied agreeing to it.

On Friday, two planes brought hundreds of Iraqis back from Belarus to Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.

Two more flights were expected on Nov. 26-27, the TASS news agency reported.

Warsaw has said the repatriation of migrants marked a change of tactics rather than a genuine attempt at de-escalation and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, touring European capitals this week to rally support for a tough response, raised the possibility of further sanctions if the crisis escalated.

Poland and Lithuania continue to report crossing attempts by migrants who are increasingly desperate with the onset of winter conditions. Polish authorities also reported unrest at one of the detention centres set up for migrants who made their way into the country.

The issue has exacerbated strife between Russia and the EU, whose ties have been at post-Cold War lows since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who helped Lukashenko ride out mass street protests after last year’s election, has also backed Belarus in its most recent standoff with the EU.

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Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Kacper Pempel, Pawel Florkiewicz; Azad Lashkari and Andrius Sytas, Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Mark Trevelyan and Tomasz Janowski; editing by Barbara Lewis

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World

GENEVA, Nov 26 (Reuters) – The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday cautioned countries against hastily imposing travel restrictions linked to the new B.1.1.529 variant of COVID-19, saying they should take a “risk-based and scientific approach”.

“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures.”

A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Orgnaization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The WHO, which has convened an experts’ meeting on Friday to evaluate whether it constitutes a variant of interest or a variant of concern, will share further guidance for governments on action they can take, he said.

It will take a few weeks to understand the variant’s impact, and researchers are working to determine how transmissible it is and how it will affect therapeutics and vaccines, he added.

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Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay;
Editing by Alison Williams

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