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.
<a href=”http://tmsnrt.rs/2yaDPgn”>Graphic: Global asset performance</a>
<a href=”http://tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh”>Graphic: World FX rates</a>
LONDON, Nov 22 (Reuters) – World stocks kicked off the week on a cautious note on Monday after posting a second consecutive weekly drop, and the euro struggled as traders weighed the risks of European lockdown restrictions and prospects of a faster Federal Reserve taper.
Though Wall Street futures held comfortably in positive territory in early London trading, major European indexes opened in the red as markets seem to have suddenly woken up to COVID-19 risks.
“The problem in Europe is the spread of Covid-19 which means that more lockdowns and other health restrictions partly against the non-vaccinated should rapidly increase in the next two weeks,” said Sebastian Galy, a strategist at Societe Generale.
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“That in turn should have a negative impact on some services and impact negatively growth, a scenario that had been ever more priced into the European equity market.”
Austria powered down public life on Monday as its fourth national COVID-19 lockdown began, the first in a western European country, with Germany warning it may follow suit. read more and
Though equity analysts have kept their bullish European stock market recommendations for now, investors are closely watching sectors such as travel, hotels and banks for wider impact. The travel and leisure index was the top decliner (.SXTP) in early trading.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan (.MIWD00000PUS) fell 0.1%. An Asian gauge (.MIAPJ0000PUS) was down by a similar margin.
The euro slipped 0.3% to $1.1260, close to a 16-month low hit on Friday. The common currency has been the prime mover in markets over recent sessions as investors bet that Europe’s economy will lag the U.S. recovery.
On the corporate front, shares in Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI) jumped 30% after KKR made a $12 billion approach to take the Italian phone group private. A telecom sub-index (.SXKP) gained by its biggest margin since March.
Safe-haven assets such as bonds, gold and the yen have also benefited from the recent cautious tone.
On Monday, the yield on benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasuries was steady at 1.5600%, with the yield curve at its flattest level since the pandemic began as markets eyed nervously the prospects of a quicker unwinding of stimulus.
Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida said last week that quickening the pace of tapering might be worth discussing at December’s meeting. November meeting minutes are due Wednesday.
Safe-haven assets attracted demand. Gold found support at $1,845 an ounce. The yen hovered at 114.09 per dollar.
Bitcoin was under pressure after posting its worst week in two months last week and fell 3% to $57,000.
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Reporting by Saikat Chatterjee; Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Editing by
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CANBERRA/SYDNEY, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Australia will allow foreign visa holders to enter the country from the start of December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, the latest step to restart international travel and support its economy.
Australia shut its international border in May 2020 and allowed only restricted numbers of citizens and permanent residents to enter in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
The rules were relaxed in recent weeks to allow foreign family members of citizens to enter, and Morrison said this will be scaled up from Dec. 1 to allow vaccinated students, business visa holders and refugees to arrive.
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“The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. Australia will also allow in vaccinated tourists from South Korea and Japan from Dec 1, he said.
The return of foreign students, who are worth about A$35 billion ($25 billion) a year to the Australian economy, will be a major boost for the education sector.
More than 235,000 foreigners, including about 160,000 students, held visas for Australia at the end of October, government data showed.
Airport staff hold up welcome signage as the first international travellers arrive at Sydney Airport in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) border restrictions easing, with fully vaccinated Australians being allowed into Sydney from overseas without quarantine for the first time since March 2020, in Sydney, Australia, November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy
Many Australian universities have come to rely on foreign students, who make up about 21% of total enrolments, and the border closure led higher education facilities to lay off hundreds of staff.
Many students locked out of Australia have said they would switch to alternative universities if they were unable to begin face-to-face learning in 2022. read more
The relaxation of the border rules is also expected to ease labour shortages, which threaten to stymie an economic rebound.
“This will be critical relief for businesses who are struggling to find workers just to keep their doors open and for those who need highly specialised skills to unlock big projects,” said Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the industry body, the Business Council.
Border rules, swift lockdowns and tough social distancing rules helped Australia to keep its coronavirus numbers far lower than many other comparable countries, with around 200,000 cases and 1,948 deaths.
Most new infections are being reported in Victoria state, which logged 1,029 cases on Monday. New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported 180 cases. Other states and territories are COVID-free or have very few cases.
($1 = 1.3824 Australian dollars)
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Reporting by Renju Jose and Colin Packham; Editing by Richard Pullin
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SYDNEY, Australia — When Australia made its trumpet-blast announcement that it would build nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the United States and Britain, the three allies said they would spend the next 18 months sorting out the details of a security collaboration that President Biden celebrated as “historic.”
Now, a month into their timetable, the partners are quietly coming to grips with the proposal’s immense complexities. Even supporters say the hurdles are formidable. Skeptics say they could be insurmountable.
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, has laid out an ambitious vision, saying that at least eight nuclear-propelled submarines using American or British technology will be built in Australia and enter the water starting in the late 2030s, replacing its squadron of six aging diesel-powered submarines.
For Australia, nuclear-powered submarines offer a powerful means to counter China’s growing naval reach and an escape hatch from a faltering agreement with a French firm to build diesel submarines. For the Biden administration, the plan demonstrates support for a beleaguered ally and shows that it means business in countering Chinese power. And for Britain, the plan could shore up its international standing and military industry after the upheaval of Brexit.
lagged the average for wealthy economies. Its past two plans to build submarines fell apart before any were made.
Marcus Hellyer, an expert on naval policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“We sometimes use the term nation-building lightly, but this will be a whole-of-nation task,” he said. “The decision to go down this path while burning all of our bridges behind us was quite a brave decision.”
American officials have already spent hundreds of hours in talks with their Australian counterparts and have no illusions about the complexities, said officials involved. Mr. Morrison “has said this is a high-risk program; he was upfront when he announced it,” Greg Moriarty, the secretary of the Australian Department of Defense, told a Senate committee this week.
Failure or serious delays would ripple beyond Australia. The Biden administration has staked American credibility on building up Australia’s military as part of an “integrated deterrence” policy that will knit the United States closer to its allies in offsetting China.
“Success would be tremendous for Australia and the U.S., assuming open access to each other’s facilities and what it means in deterring China,” said Brent Sadler, a former U.S. Navy officer who is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Failure would be doubly damaging — an alliance that cannot deliver, loss of undersea capacity by a trusted ally and a turn to isolationism on Australia’s part.”
Australia is hoping for a reversal of fortune after more than a decade of misadventures in its submarine-modernization efforts. The plan for French-designed diesel submarines that Mr. Morrison abandoned had succeeded a deal for Japanese-designed submarines that a predecessor championed.
wrote in a recent article critical of Mr. Morrison’s plan.
two Virginia class boats a year for the Navy and are ramping up to build Columbia class submarines, 21,000-ton vessels that carry nuclear missiles as a roving deterrent — a priority for any administration.
A report to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month warned that the “nuclear shipbuilding industrial base continues to struggle to support the increased demand” from U.S. orders. That report was prepared too late to take into account the Australian proposal.
“They are working at 95-98 percent on Virginia and Columbia,” Richard V. Spencer, a Navy secretary in the Trump administration, said of the two American submarine shipyards. He supports Australia’s plan and said his preferred path on the first submarines was to galvanize specialized suppliers to ship parts, or whole segments of the submarines, to assemble in Australia.
“Let us all be perfectly aware and wide-eyed that the nuclear program is a massive resource consumer and time consumer, and that’s the given,” he said in a telephone interview.
said during a Senate committee hearing.
often behind schedule. Britain’s submarine maker, BAE Systems, is also busy building Dreadnought submarines to carry the country’s nuclear deterrent.
“Spare capacity is very limited,” Trevor Taylor, a professorial research fellow in defense management at the Royal United Services Institute, a research institute, wrote in an email. “The U.K. cannot afford to impose delay on its Dreadnought program in order to divert effort to Australia.”
Adding to the complications, Britain has been phasing out the PWR2 reactor that powers the Astute, after officials agreed that the model would “not be acceptable going forward,” an audit report said in 2018. The Astute is not designed to fit the next-generation reactor, and that issue could make it difficult to restart building the submarine for Australia, Mr. Taylor and other experts said.
Britain’s successor to the Astute is still on the drawing board; the government said last month that it would spend three years on design work for it. A naval official in the British Ministry of Defense said that the planned new submarine could fit Australia’s timetable well. Several experts were less sure.
“Waiting for the next-generation U.K. or U.S. attack submarine would mean an extended capability gap” for Australia, Mr. Taylor wrote in an assessment.
town of 67,000 that is home to Britain’s submarine-building shipyard, are handed iodine tablets as a precaution against possible leaks when reactors are tested. The Osborne shipyard in South Australia, where Mr. Morrison wants to build the nuclear submarines, sits on the edge of Adelaide, a city of 1.4 million.
Australia operates one small nuclear reactor. Its sole university program dedicated to nuclear engineering produces about five graduates every year, said Edward Obbard, the leader of the program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Australia would need many thousands more people with nuclear training and experience if it wants the submarines, he said.
“The ramp-up has to start now,” he said.
Michael Crowley and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
Then came the Delta variant. Despite keeping their countries largely sealed off, the virus found its way in. And when it did, it spread quickly. In the summer, South Korea battled its worst wave of infections; hospitals in Indonesia ran out of oxygen and beds; and in Thailand, health care workers had to turn away patients.
With cases surging, countries quickly shifted their vaccination approach.
Sydney, Australia, announced a lockdown in June after an unvaccinated limousine driver caught the Delta variant from an American aircrew. Then, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had previously said vaccination “was not a race,” called in July on Australians to “go for gold” in the country’s inoculation drive.
The State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.
Vaccine rules.On Aug. 23, the F.D.A. granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for mandates in both the public and private sectors. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
Schools. California became the first state to issue a vaccine mandate for all educators in public and private schools. New York City has also introduced a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff, but it has yet to take effect because of legal challenges. On Sept. 27, a federal appeals panel reversed a decision that temporarily paused that mandate. it. Los Angeles has mandated vaccines for students 12 and older who are attending class in person.
Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get vaccinated. Mandates for health care workers in California and New York State appear to have compelled thousands of holdouts to receive shots.
New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations. City education staff and hospital workers must also get a vaccine.
At the federal level. On Sept. 9,President Biden announced a vaccine mandate for the vast majority of federal workers. This mandate will apply to employees of the executive branch, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the armed services.
In the private sector. Mr. Biden has mandated that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing, helping propel new corporate vaccination policies. Some companies, like United Airlines and Tyson Foods, had mandates in place before Mr. Biden’s announcement.
He moved to overcome a supply shortage, compounded by the slow regulatory approval. In August, Australia bought one million Pfizer doses from Poland; this month, Mr. Morrison announced a purchase of a million Moderna shots from Europe.
When the Delta outbreak emerged, fewer than 25 percent of Australians over the age of 16 had received a single shot. In the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, 86 percent of the adult population has now received a first dose, and 62 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. The country expects to fully inoculate 80 percent of its population over the age of 16 by early November.
“There was great community leadership — there were people from across the political divide who came out to support vaccination,” said Greg Dore, an infectious-disease expert at the University of New South Wales. “It really helped us turn around a level of hesitancy that was there.”
Many governments have used incentives to encourage inoculations.
In South Korea, the authorities eased restrictions in August on private gatherings for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to meet in larger groups while maintaining stricter curbs for others. Singapore, which has fully vaccinated 82 percent of its population, previously announced similar measures.
Researchers there have also analyzed the pockets of people who refuse to be inoculated and are trying to persuade them.