Countries are Diverging in Their Response to Omicron. Today's roundup features Australia, France, the UK, Greece, and Italy.
First the good news: Australia has reopened, effective 12/15/21, to fully vaccinated visitors from Japan and South Korea who have negative results from a PCR test taken within the 3 days prior to travel. Fully vaccinated Singaporeans have been eligible to travel to Australia since 11/21/21. There's no date yet for when other nationalities, such as U.S. citizens, will be able to travel to Australia, but sometime in 2022 is likely, depending on how Omicron cases impact the Australian healthcare system.
Australian leaders have urged Australians to not overreact to the omicron variant, stating that the country needs to learn how to live with the virus. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has encouraged people to focus less on COVID-19 case numbers and more on hospitalization rates, which are still low.
Now the bad news, in terms of more entry restrictions. From 12/18/21 France will close to travelers from the UK (including U.S. citizens and others in the UK) who lack a “compelling reason” to travel to France. This includes leisure as well as most business travel, apart from select exemptions for truckers, certain COVID-19 researchers, etc.
Italy, as of today, 12/16/21, requires all fully vaccinated arrivals, including from the European Union, to have negative results from either a COVID-19 PCR test taken within the 48 hours prior to arrival in Italy, or from an antigen test taken within the 24 hours prior to arrival. These are the same rules that already applied to fully vaccinated arrivals coming from outside the EU, but are a dramatic change to the previous free movement rules within the EU.
Similarly, Greece, as of 12/19/21, requires all visitors (regardless of vaccination status), including those from other EU countries, to present negative results from a COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours prior to arrival, per the Greek Health Ministry. Previously EU arrivals were exempt from the testing requirement.
The new restrictions within Europe come as the UK reported over 78,000 new COVID-19 cases on 12/15/21, the highest number on a single day since the beginning of the pandemic. Hospitalizations, a lagging indicator, are currently less than a fifth of those during the UK's January 2021 peak, but the concern is that even healthcare workers who are infected although not seriously ill will need to isolate, reducing the available healthcare resources available for those who do become ill or need non-coronavirus care.
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