Your Wednesday Briefing: Omicron Restrictions

We’re covering Asia-Pacific approaches to Omicron and progress in India’s ambitious water-access plan.

As the Omicron coronavirus wave crashes through Europe and the United States, countries in Asia are all over the map with their containment approaches.

Heightening the urgency, data shows that Asia’s most widely used vaccines — including those made by AstraZeneca, Sinovac and Sinopharm — show no ability to stop Omicron infections six months after vaccination. (Most vaccines still seem to provide a significant degree of protection against serious illness from Omicron.)

New Zealand said on Tuesday that it was pushing back a phased opening of its borders to the end of February. It has detected 22 cases of Omicron in international arrivals but no community spread. In the event of an outbreak, the government intends to replace the lockdowns of the past with more targeted measures, the Covid minister said. It is also speeding up booster shots and bringing back quarantine for Kiwis returning home.

Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region are taking their own approaches.

India has not announced new rules but told governors to be on alert, as Omicron cases have multiplied quickly. Ninety percent of vaccinated people in India received the AstraZeneca vaccine, under the brand name Covishield.

China has doubled down on its strict, zero-Covid strategy, with new quarantines and border restrictions in the regions where Omicron has been identified. In one of the hardest-hit areas, Zhejiang province, thousands of people were placed under quarantine and some businesses were closed last week, according to CNN. Beijing is hosting the Winter Olympics in less than two months.

Japan, which closed its borders to visitors last month, asked a U.S. military base in Okinawa that is experiencing an outbreak to put more Covid restrictions in place. Thailand paused its quarantine-free travel program. And Indonesia restricted travel from nations in Europe and Africa.

Australia, in a departure from its earlier Covid strategies, has no plans for lockdowns now. “We’re not going back to shutting down people’s lives,” the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


Now, as Russia masses troops on the Ukrainian border, the steady militarization of society under President Vladimir Putin looms large, and appears to have inured many to the idea that a fight could be coming.

Speaking to Russian military leaders on Tuesday, Putin insisted that Russia did not want bloodshed, but was prepared to respond with “military-technical measures” to the West. State TV is portraying all of Russia’s efforts in Ukraine as defensive maneuvers.

Some of the latest propaganda tactics include a $185 million four-year program started by the Kremlin this year that aims to drastically increase Russians’ “patriotic education,” including a plan to attract at least 600,000 children as young as 8 to join the ranks of a uniformed Youth Army.

Quotable: “The authorities are actively selling the idea of war,” Dmitri A. Muratov, a Russian newspaper editor who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said in his acceptance speech. “People are getting used to the thought of its permissibility.”

The latest: Vice President Kamala Harris said that the U.S. would impose sanctions on Russia “like you’ve not seen before” if it invaded Ukraine. She told CBS that the White House was making that clear in direct discussions with Putin.


India, one of the world’s most water-stressed countries, is halfway through an ambitious drive to provide clean tap water by 2024 to the 192 million households who live in its 600,000 villages.

Thousands of government engineers are working on the $50 billion project to install taps in every home. It’s also providing jobs for contractors and laborers who are laying millions of miles of pipes.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi considers the project crucial and has slashed through bureaucratic red tape to help. It’s also personal: Modi has spoken emotionally about his own mother’s hardship in fetching water when he was growing up.

His success thus far helps explain his dominance over the country’s political landscape and his high approval rating. Some have criticized the program’s lack of focus on water conservation.

The numbers: Only about one-sixth of India’s households had a clean water tap when the program, called Jal Jeevan Mission, began in 2019. Now, almost half have one. Nearly 40 million Indian people are affected by waterborne diseases every year.

Asia Pacific

Brands are pouring money into TikTok for advertising campaigns, drawn by its more than 1 billion users and powerful algorithm. “The growth that we’ve seen is insane,” said Krishna Subramanian, a founder of the influencer marketing firm Captiv8, where roughly a dozen employees are focused on TikTok.

The New York Times Faces Quiz offers a chance to see how well you know some of the defining personalities of 2021. Give us the name that matches each face. (And, yes, the quiz is lenient on spelling.)

Play it here and see how well you do compared with other Times readers.

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