Officials in Italy said the country was well-prepared to handle a surge in tests for passengers bound for the United States. In the weeks since the government began requiring frequent, negative tests for all unvaccinated Italian workers, pharmacies have processed up to one million rapid tests a day.

“The prospect of more rapid swabs for travelers to the U.S. is not a problem for pharmacies here,” said Marco Cossolo, president of Italy’s largest association of private pharmacies, Federfarma.

South Korea built up the capacity to administer an average of 68,000 P.C.R. tests a day in November, according to Seung-ho Choi, the deputy director of risk communication at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Center. Results almost always come within 24 hours, he said, though travelers catching early-morning flights when clinics are closed might have to seek out hospitals that administer tests.

Britain is among several countries that have recently required tests for incoming travelers within a day or two after arriving. Randox Laboratories, a British company that provides Covid tests for travel, said on Thursday that since the changes were announced for travelers entering Britain last weekend, it had ramped up P.C.R. testing capacity to its pandemic peak of 180,000 tests per day.

That would also help with processing tests for travelers to the United States, the company said.

For Europeans with ties to the United States, the new rules are merely the latest wild card in a life already lived perpetually in flux.

“What a nightmare — enough!” said Alice Volpi, 28, when told of the impending American restrictions.

An Italian who was living in New York at the outset of the pandemic, Ms. Volpi recounted how she could not return home to Italy for several months because of her country’s travel ban. When she finally got home, a travel ban imposed by the United States prevented her from returning to see her boyfriend in New York.

“The most frustrating part is that you can never make a plan more than one week in advance because everything can change every day,” said Ms. Volpi, who insisted she would press on with plans to visit her boyfriend at Christmas. “That doesn’t allow me to be serene.”

For some Americans living abroad who fear that borders may close again if Omicron proves to be a lethal threat, the solution is to move up their travel timelines. The testing requirements are stressful, they said, but not as much as the possibility that the Biden administration might eventually cut off travel pathways completely.

“That’s what I’m most worried about — not getting to see my family,” said Sarah Little, 25, who moved from New York to London in September to study. She had originally planned to fly home closer to Christmas, but is now trying to book a flight early next week.

“It would just be devastating if I couldn’t get home,” Ms. Little said.

Gaia Pianigiani and Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome; Saskia Solomon and Isabella Kwai from London; Aurelien Breeden from Paris; John Yoon from Seoul and Sheryl Gay Stolberg from Washington.

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W.H.O. Scolds Rich Nations for Travel Bans and Booster Shots

LONDON — As the still-mysterious Omicron variant reached American shores, the World Health Organization on Wednesday scolded wealthy countries that imposed travel bans and dismissed those that poured resources into vaccine booster campaigns when billions in poor countries had yet to receive their first shots.

The comments by W.H.O. officials reopened fraught questions of equity in how the world has handled the coronavirus pandemic since a stark divide over the availability of vaccines emerged between rich and poor countries earlier this year.

But amid fears of a new wave of Covid-19, that seemed unlikely to sway leaders in Europe, Asia, and the United States, which reported its first confirmed Omicron case, in California, on Wednesday. They are scrambling to shield their populations from the variant — about which much remains unknown — by topping up their protection and tightening restrictions on incoming travel.

Travelers reacted with confusion and dismay to news that the United States plans to toughen testing requirements and the screening of inbound passengers. That decision came after Japan, Israel, and Morocco barred foreign travelers and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks.

revealed to the world — and Dr. Tedros warned that the number would rise.

The W.H.O. also voiced skepticism about ambitious booster plans that it claimed come at the expense of first-time vaccinations in less wealthy nations. Britain this week announced a massive new campaign to deliver booster shots to all adults by the end of January. Other European countries and the Biden administration are also pushing these shots as a first line of defense against the variant, buying time for scientists to unravel its genomic code.

Japan joined Israel and Morocco in barring all foreign travelers, and Australia delayed reopening its borders for two weeks. The C.D.C plans to increase testing and screening of international fliers to the U.S.

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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Omicron Variant Prompts Travel Bans and Batters World Markets

The world reacted with alarm on Friday to the highly mutated new coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa, as the United States, the European Union and nations across the globe imposed new travel restrictions, financial markets swooned and visions of finally emerging from the pandemic started to dim.

Just two days after the world learned of the variant, the World Health Organization officially labeled it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category — the first since the Delta variant, which emerged a year ago. The designation means that the variant has mutations that might make it more contagious or more virulent, or make vaccines and other preventive measures less effective — though none of those effects has yet been established.

suffered terribly when Covid first hit Europe early last year.

On Friday, Israel, Singapore, several European nations individually, and then the European Union as a whole, the United States and Canada followed the lead set by Britain on Thursday night, temporarily barring foreign travelers who have recently been in South Africa or any of several neighboring countries. As with past travel bans, countries are allowing their own citizens and permanent residents to return home if they test negative for the virus, with some requiring additional testing and quarantine after arrival.

fights over vaccines and social restrictions have grown increasingly harsh.

world’s highest case rates for their populations are all European — several of them about six times as high as the U.S. rate.

South Africa, whose last coronavirus wave peaked in July, has recently reported case rates far below the worldwide average. But last week the rate more than doubled from the week before.

Reporting was contributed by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Carl Zimmer, Lynsey Chutel and Nick Cumming-Bruce.

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Next Year, Brits Will Fly Abroad. For Now, It’s Bognor Bingo.

BOGNOR REGIS, England — Little has changed in the 40 years that Jean Sheppard has been calling numbers at Crown Bingo here in the heart of Bognor Regis, one of Britain’s oldest seaside resort towns, about 60 miles south of London. The regulars still line up before the doors open at 11 a.m., hoping to nab their upholstered seat of choice in a converted cinema built in the ’30s.

When the games begin, there are no distractions.

“We had an elderly lady here once whose family came to tell her that her husband had passed away,” Ms. Sheppard recalled recently. “And this woman said, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do for him now,’ and kept right on playing.”

The other constant over the years is the decline of Bognor Regis. Like most of the country’s seaside resorts, the town’s heyday in the ’50s and ’60s is the stuff of dim memories. Bognor and its many rival destinations — Brighton, Hastings, Margate, Skegness, Blackpool and others — once thronged with summer travelers who packed the beaches, seafood shacks and amusement arcades in search of a good time and, for those lucky enough to encounter a cloudless sky, a tan.

Then in the 1970s came the rise of cheap jet travel and overseas package tours. For the same price as a trip here, a family could fly to the beaches of Spain, where blazing sunshine was essentially guaranteed. The resort towns of Britain went into an economic free fall from which they have never recovered.

“Pubs have shut down, theaters have shut down, lots of buildings were knocked down,” said Ms. Sheppard, speaking after her shift on Sunday evening. “There’s been talk about regeneration for years, but nobody seems to know how to do it.”

Now, the limitations imposed by the pandemic are succeeding where all else has failed — at least for the moment. Government-imposed air travel restrictions and warnings have curbed the national appetite for overseas trips. Brits are still allowed to fly to Spain, and elsewhere in Europe, but unless you’re heading to Gibraltar — where infection rates are low — you must quarantine for 10 days after returning home and pay for two Covid-19 tests.

This past week, the British health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the policy would soon be revisited and liberalized. That good news was offset by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron of France, who on Thursday urged all countries in the European Union to require British travelers to quarantine upon arrival.

So towns like Bognor Regis are getting a second look. There were more than 180 new players last week at Crown Bingo, said Jenny Barrett, the assistant manager. And for the first time in decades, hotels here are reporting occupancy rates well above 90 percent.

“This weekend we’re at 95 percent,” said André Gonçalves, a manager at the Beachcroft Hotel. “And our prices are up about 20 to 30 percent.”

The owner of the mini golf course right next to the beach-side promenade, Paul Tiernan, is relishing the payoff from a renovation during the height of the pandemic. He refurbished and cleaned the whole course, in part because during lockdown there was nothing else to do. Lately, on weekends there has been a waiting line that extends around the corner and down the street.

“British seasides are having a massive renaissance, everywhere you go,” he said. “Everyone is just filling their boots.”

Mr. Tiernan sat in a chair near the edge of the first hole of his course, directly in the line of fire of any overzealous putters. He moved to Bognor Regis 50 years ago, as a child, which makes him just old enough to have glimpsed the last vestiges of the town’s halcyon days.

“There was a pier over there,” he said, pointing across the street. “Honest to God, it was beautiful. Right at the end there was a pavilion. And there was a theater there.”

Today, the pier is short and looks hazardous. Across a different street stands an empty lot with nothing but debris from a building that burned down four years ago under what Mr. Tiernan called dubious circumstances.

It’s all a long slide from the days when Bognor was prestigious enough to serve as a place for King George V, Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather, to convalesce after lung surgery in 1929. The royal connection was memorialized when “Regis,” Latin for “of the King,” was added to the town’s name. But its most famous link to the monarchy is the story — surely as false as it is amusing — that his last words were an alliterative, impolite put-down of Bognor, uttered after aides suggested that he’d soon be well enough to return. (Polite version: “I don’t want to go to Bognor.”)

Credit…Getty Images

James Joyce left behind kinder impressions after a stay here in 1923. “The weather is very fine and the country here restful,” he wrote to a patron. Joyce scholars believe he picked up the improbable name of the lead character of “Finnegans Wake,” Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, from a nearby cemetery.

The flow of out-of-towners picked up when entrepreneur Billy Butlin opened his second Butlin’s Holiday Camp here in 1960, bringing his vision of a family vacation, filled with vigorous activities and all-inclusive buffets, to the south of the country. Today, the Butlin’s here is one of only three originals still in operation, and it is curiously walled off from the rest of town. A fence stands between the ocean and the Butlin’s campus, which features a gleaming, massive structure that looks like a circus tent from the future.

The logic of a beachside holiday camp with little access to the beach, designed around indoor amusements, seems baffling. Until it starts raining, which it did often last weekend. Bognor boasts that it’s the sunniest place in the United Kingdom, a title claimed by other towns as well. Even when it’s sunny, though, the beach here is not exactly inviting. It’s made of small stones, which are comfortable to lay atop only if you bring a futon.

The water rarely gets much above 60 degrees, a temperature described by the National Center for Cold Water Safety as “very dangerous.”

“We all have wet suits,” said Sara Poffenberger, a Brit who was toweling off with her son and grandson. “But lots of British people will swim without wet suits and tell you the water is boiling.”

The beaches here helped Bognor Regis earn the title of worst U.K. seaside resort in a 2019 survey of 3,000 holidaymakers. Bognor and the fellow bottom dweller Clacton-on-Sea received low ratings for their “attractions, scenery, peace and quiet and value for the money,” the publication found.

Reviews like this explain why even optimists believe Bognor’s boomlet is unlikely to last. Business owners here understand that they are banking the upsides of what could most charitably be described as exceptional circumstances. Someday soon, normal will return.

“Next year, every man and his dog will go abroad,” Mr. Tiernan said, sitting at his mini golf course. “But next year is next year, so I’m enjoying the moment.”

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With Tokyo Olympics Weeks Away, U.S. Warns Americans Not to Travel to Japan

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Monday warned Americans against traveling to Japan as the country experiences an increase in coronavirus cases less than two months before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.

The move has little practical effect, as Japan’s borders have been closed to most nonresident foreigners since the early months of the pandemic. But the warning is another blow for the Olympics, which are facing stiff opposition among the Japanese public over concerns that they could become a superspreader event as athletes and their entourages pour in from around the world.

The Japanese authorities have insisted that they can carry off the Olympics safely. They have made clear that they intend to proceed with the Games regardless of public discontent and a state of emergency currently in place in much of the country.

Likewise, Japanese officials told the local news media that they viewed the American warning as separate from any considerations for the Games. The State Department declaration is unlikely to affect the United States’ decision to send its athletes to the Olympics. Presumably, most if not all have been vaccinated, although the Games’ organizers are not requiring participants to be inoculated.

Osaka, part of Japan’s second-largest metropolitan area, is struggling to deal with the surge, which has put pressure on its health care system.

20,000 people in Japan connected to the event. In addition, the Japanese organizers of the Games have barred international spectators from attending.

But those moves have not allayed public concerns. About 80 percent of the Japanese public believes that the Olympics, which were delayed by a year because of the pandemic, should be canceled or postponed again, polls show. The approval rating for Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has fallen to the low 30s over his handling of the virus, according to a recent poll by Jiji Press.

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the Games to be canceled, and protesters have taken to the streets to denounce the event as a threat to public health. In a poll conducted last week, nearly 70 percent of companies said that the Olympics should be stopped or delayed.

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Germany to Ban Most Travel from U.K. Over Covid Variant Concerns

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Germany is banning most travel from Britain starting on Sunday amid concerns about the spread of a coronavirus variant first discovered in India, the German authorities said on Friday.

German citizens and residents of Germany will still be allowed to enter the country from Britain but will be required to self-isolate for two weeks upon arrival, Germany’s public health institution said as it classified Britain as an area of concern because of the variant.

The move came just days after Britain reopened its museums and cinemas and resumed allowing indoor service in pubs and restaurants. Many people in Britain have been looking forward to traveling abroad in the coming months, and Spain is set to welcome visitors arriving from Britain without a coronavirus test starting on Monday.

serve as an early warning for other European countries that have relaxed restrictions. This month, the World Health Organization declared the mutation a “variant of concern,” and although scientists’ knowledge about it remains limited, it is believed to be more transmissible than the virus’s initial form.

dozen or so other countries that Germany considers areas of concern because of variants. As of Thursday, Britain had 3,424 cases of the variant first discovered in India, according to government data, up from 1,313 cases the previous week.

Dozens of nations, including European countries and the United States, suspended travel from Britain or imposed strict restrictions earlier in the pandemic amid concerns about the spread of a variant first detected in England.

Britain’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday that the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England had showed “early signs of a potential increase” in the week ending May 15, although it said rates remained low compared with earlier this year. At its peak in late December, Britain recorded more than active 81,000 cases, compared with about 2,000 this month.

The country’s inoculation campaign is continuing apace, with an increased focus on second doses in an effort to thwart the sort of spikes that led to restrictions imposed earlier this year.

said on Saturday that people over 32 could now book an appointment.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to proceed with a plan to lift all restrictions by June 21, although scientists have warned that the spread of the B.1.617 variant could delay such plans. Most cases of the variant have been found in northwestern England, with some in London.

In Germany, the restrictions on travel from Britain come as outdoor service resumed on Friday in cafes, restaurants and beer gardens after months of closure. Chancellor Angela Merkel urged people to “treat these opportunities very responsibly.”

“The virus,” she said, “has not disappeared.”

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They Live in the U.S., but They’re Not Allowed to Come Home

In early April, Payal Raj accompanied her family to India to renew the visas that permit them to live in the United States. She and her husband waited until they had been vaccinated, carefully preparing their paperwork according to the advice of their immigration lawyers. But the visa itself would soon strand her in India indefinitely, separating her from her husband and daughter in Hendersonville, Tenn.

“Our family is in a crisis,” said Ms. Raj, who is one of thousands of immigrants stuck in India, in part because the Biden administration’s restrictions on most travel from the country mean that temporary visa holders are explicitly barred from re-entering the United States. “Every morning is a struggle.”

The restrictions, issued as a devastating surge in coronavirus cases has overwhelmed India in recent weeks, prohibit Ms. Raj and others like her from returning to their homes, families and jobs in the United States. Even those exempt under the ban are in limbo as the outbreak forces the U.S. Embassy and consulates to close, leaving many with no clear path home.

Ms. Raj’s husband, Yogesh Kumar, an operations manager for a multinational corporation, lives in the United States on an H-1B visa, or a temporary permit for highly technical foreign workers. As dependents, Ms. Raj and their daughter hold H-4 visas, which allow temporary workers to bring immediate family and must be renewed about every three years at an embassy or consulate outside the United States.

American citizens and permanent residents, for instance, can travel freely, while people who are fully vaccinated, test negative or quarantine before and after flying cannot. The administration has not indicated when or under what circumstances it would lift the restrictions.

“They just put the same blanket ban for India that they were using in the Trump administration,” said Greg Siskind, an immigration lawyer who is suing the Biden administration over the State Department’s inability to issue visas in countries experiencing lockdowns. “This was the same style ban that President Biden said last March was ineffective and was a bad idea.”

The United States has restricted entry from a number of countries, but the most recent ban has had a disproportionate effect on Indians in the United States given that Indian citizens claim more than two-thirds of H-1B visas issued each year. Including those on other kinds of nonimmigrant visas, immigration lawyers estimate that thousands of Indians living in the United States have been affected.

Some traveled to India when coronavirus case counts were low to renew their visas or see family. Others went to care for sick or dying relatives. Now some are unable to secure even emergency appointments to renew their visas at the embassy in New Delhi or any of the four U.S. consulates in India.

In late April, Gaurav Chauhan traveled to Agra to care for his father, who was hospitalized with the coronavirus. He is now separated from his wife and two children, who live in Atlanta.

Credit…Payal Raj

As a parent of American citizens who are minors, Mr. Chauhan is exempt from the ban, but he has been unable to make an emergency appointment on the State Department’s website to renew his visa. His employer, a software company, has temporarily allowed Mr. Chauhan, who works in human resources, to do his job overseas. But others in similar situations say they have been asked to leave their jobs.

analysis of State Department data by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Such shutdowns should not stop visa processing, Mr. Siskind said, pointing to other immigration agencies that had successfully adapted to remote work and exceptions to in-person document submission.

“One of the issues with the State Department for the last 14 months is their lack of imagination in terms of how to change their procedures in a pandemic,” Mr. Siskind said. “They have, for example, not switched to video interviewing, which is something that they have the statutory authority to do.”

The State Department acknowledged that “services are limited” at U.S. outposts in India but said that it would “make every attempt to continue to honor approved emergency visa appointments.” The department could not provide a specific date for when other visa services would resume.

Abhiram, a professor in Broward County, Fla., whose wife and 3-year-old daughter remain outside Hyderabad after visiting family in January, said he did not fault the government for enforcing travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But the situation has made him consider whether to stay in the United States.

“Every day my daughter asks me, ‘Daddy, where are you?’” said Abhiram, who asked to be identified only by his middle name. “I do feel sometimes like going back to my home country, rather than dealing with this.”

But for Ms. Raj and her family, home is Hendersonville.

“Our whole day-to-day life was interacting with our neighbors, going and visiting friends, getting together for backyard parties. It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I don’t want to uproot our lives.”

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Australia’s First Repatriation Flight from India Returns Half Empty

Days after ending its divisive ban on allowing citizens to return from India, Australia carried out its first repatriation flight from that country, with the plane departing from New Delhi and arriving in Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, on Saturday.

The flight had been scheduled to carry 150 passengers, but just 80 people were on it, after 70 people were barred from travel because they or their close contacts had tested positive for Covid-19, according to the Australian government. The new arrivals in Australia now face two weeks of quarantine in a converted mining camp outside Darwin.

Because of Australia’s rigorous preflight testing, in which passengers must show two negative tests for Covid-19, the seats could not be given to other passengers. At least 9,500 Australians in India have registered as wanting to return home. Around 1,000 of those people are classified as “vulnerable” for health or financial reasons.

When the numbers of new cases of the coronavirus began a perilous ascent in India last month, Australia followed in the footsteps of New Zealand and imposed a temporary ban on travel from India. Those who defied the ban faced the threat of jail time or large fines. The policy was heavily criticized and labeled a breach of human rights by lawmakers, advocacy groups and those in the Indian diaspora.

the most recent government guidance. Many Australian citizens are still stranded abroad, unable to secure spots in isolation facilities or afford flights home that may run into the tens of thousands of dollars for a one-way ticket. The measures have all but eliminated community transmission of the virus.

India, by contrast, is experiencing one of the world’s most dangerous outbreaks, with hospitals unable to accommodate the thousands of people who require urgent medical attention. Crematories in the country, which has so far reported 24 million cases and more than 250,000 deaths, are overloaded, while dozens of bodies have washed up on the banks of the Ganges River.

In a televised briefing over the weekend, Australia’s treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said that the government’s priority was to protect Australians within their own country. “We’re following the medical advice,” he said, adding, “We’ve got to maintain our health settings because we know how damaging to the lives and livelihoods of Australians an outbreak here would be.”

Further repatriation flights are scheduled for later this month, with about 1,000 people planning to return by the end of June.

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India’s Neighbors Struggle Amid Regional Covid-19 Outbreak

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Most of Nepal is under lockdown, its hospitals overwhelmed. Bangladesh suspended vaccination sign-ups after promised supplies were cut off. Sri Lanka’s hopes of a tourism-led economic revival have collapsed.

As India battles a horrific surge of the coronavirus, the effects have spilled over to its neighbors. Most nearby countries have sealed their borders. Several that had been counting on Indian-made vaccines are pleading with China and Russia instead.

The question is whether that will be enough, in a region that shares many of the risk factors that made India so vulnerable: densely populated cities, heavy air pollution, fragile health care systems and large populations of poor workers who must weigh the threat of the virus against the possibility of starvation.

Though the countries’ outbreaks can’t all be linked to India, officials across the region have expressed growing dread over how easily their fates could follow that of their neighbor.

huge, maskless rallies in India hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even as infections rose. Likewise, both the ruling and opposition parties in Nepal held large political gatherings after the prime minister dissolved Parliament in December.

told CNN on Saturday that Nepal’s situation was “under control” but acknowledged that “political instability” had led to “some mistakes.” On Monday night, Mr. Oli lost a vote of no confidence in Parliament, throwing Nepal into further turmoil.

Aid workers have warned that the parallels between Nepal and India may continue, as hospitals turn all but the most critically ill patients away. With medical oxygen supplies running short, as they did in India, Nepal’s government has imposed quotas for each hospital, which doctors say are far from adequate. Reports of patients dying from insufficient oxygen have spread.

said in a statement last week.

Vaccines are unlikely to help immediately. Nepal paid for two million doses from India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines. But as India’s crisis has escalated, its government has essentially halted exports, leaving Nepal a million doses short.

India’s pause has also scrambled vaccination plans in Bangladesh. Late last month, the authorities there announced that they would temporarily stop accepting new registrations for shots after supplies from the Serum Institute were cut off.

95 percent of its eligible population. Bhutan last month suspended entry for foreign workers, after experts cited concerns about laborers coming from India.

The border between Pakistan and India was closed even before the pandemic because of political tensions. But in Pakistan, too, cases are rising. Asad Umar, the official leading its coronavirus response, cited the fact that “the entire region is exploding with cases and deaths” to explain new lockdowns.

coronavirus response plan last May, it estimated that local facilities would be insufficient if there were more than 5,000 active cases at once. Now there are more than 100,000.

For many Nepalis, anger and sorrow have mixed with utter helplessness.

Pramod Pathak, a businessman in the border district of Kailali, has watched in anxiety and sorrow as migrant workers returned from India. They have crowded every day into overwhelmed testing centers, or — for the many for whom there are no tests — simply crammed into shared cars and returned to their villages.

“The virus is transmitting as they travel in jam-packed vehicles,” Mr. Pathak said. “There’s no safety for them no matter where they go — be it India or Nepal.”

Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, Nepal; Aanya Wipulasena from Colombo, Sri Lanka; and Vivian Wang from Hong Kong. Julfikar Ali Manik contributed reporting from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Chencho Dema from Thimphu, Bhutan.

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Here We Go Again: Another Covid Case Brings More Uncertainty

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I’ve spent the past 24 hours jumping at phone alerts and periodically Googling “NSW covid” and “Victoria border restrictions.”

I’m in Sydney for the week and was planning to stay until Sunday. But after the discovery of a mystery coronavirus case in the community, I’m trying to work out whether I need to head back to Melbourne sooner to get ahead of a possible border closure.

It’s not a life-or-death decision, but I’m loath to give up the weekend I was supposed to spend with my parents (the guilt trip I’ll get for missing Mother’s Day will be subtle but significant). However, I’ve got work commitments in Melbourne next week that I can’t miss.

There are no clear metrics for when and how states decide to enforce border restrictions. As the authorities keep stressing, every outbreak is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

I do the calculations in my head: New South Wales recorded no new infections on Friday. Queensland and Western Australia have only enacted border measures for New South Wales travelers who’ve visited hot spots. All of the mystery case’s close contacts have tested negative, sans one.

But on the other hand, the list of exposure sites keeps growing. We still haven’t found the missing link between the infected man and the originating case in hotel quarantine. New Zealand has paused the trans-Tasman bubble with New South Wales for 48 hours.

If there’s an announcement, will I have enough time to book a flight? Will there still be flights left to book?

It adds up to a whole lot of uncertainty. And following closely on its heels, annoyance.

This is a regular occurrence by now. The coronavirus escapes hotel quarantine, the state locks down or puts restrictions in place, and other states enforce border restrictions. Travelers scramble, and businesses bemoan the hit to their profits.

There are some differences this time. Unlike the Perth outbreak two weeks ago, most states haven’t enacted hard border closures with New South Wales. But for the most part, it feels like we’re having the same conversations again and again without gaining much ground. How do we stop coronavirus from leaking out of hotel quarantine? Is the virus airborne? Do we need purpose-built facilities? Are state borders closures an overreaction?

These outbreaks should be getting less significant as more Australians get vaccinated. But that is also a slow and ungainly process, according to experts, in part because we’ve gotten complacent. We’ve dealt so well with the virus that there’s no urgency about inoculating the population.

Some people I’ve spoken to who became eligible for the vaccine this week as part of phase 2A have expressed exactly that sentiment: We might as well wait a bit longer, just in case. It won’t make a big difference to us, here, either way.

Some days, it feels like the pandemic, at least in Australia, is a thing of the past. In Melbourne, I’d noticed more and more people forgoing their mandated masks on public transport. Even I’ve been getting slack about checking in at venues. But the past few days have been another reminder that things we used to take for granted, like free movement between states, still aren’t guaranteed.

Now for this week’s stories:


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