France, Germany, Ireland and a host of other European countries have imposed restrictions on travel with the UK, in a bid to stop the spread of a new strain of coronavirus that is up to 70% more infectious.
France announced on Sunday evening that it would suspend all travel from the United Kingdom, including the transport of goods, for 48 hours from 11pm Sunday. The decision came after French President Emmanuel Macron called an emergency health council meeting to discuss how to react to the UK government tightening Covid-19 measures.
On Monday, Poland became the latest country to announce it would suspend flights from Britain. Other countries to have suspended incoming flights include the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Romania, Belgium and Bulgaria.
The first restrictions were announced just hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed new Covid-19 measures on London and parts of southeast England, ruining Christmas holiday plans for millions. Households in those regions cannot mix, and all non-essential shops must close.
After he spoke, videos emerged online that showed crowds of people rushing to London's train stations, apparently making a dash for places in the UK with less stringent coronavirus restrictions before the new rules took effect. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock called those scenes "totally irresponsible.”
Several countries declare bans on passengers travelling
The Irish government said that it would restrict travel on planes and ferries from Britain from midnight on Sunday.
Bulgaria declared the longest ban yet to be announced: a suspension of all flights between the two countries until 31 January.
The Netherlands' ban will last until 1 January.
“An infectious mutation of the Covid-19 virus is circulating in the United Kingdom. It is said to spread more easily and faster and is more difficult to detect,” the Dutch health ministry said in a statement.
Belgium will be suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight (11pm GMT) Sunday. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television channel VRT the ban would be in place for at least 24 hours.
Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said in a Facebook post that Italy will suspend flights to and from the UK. "Our priority is to protect Italy and our compatriots," he wrote.
Germany will ban flights from Britain and South Africa from midnight to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus strain circulating in both countries, according to a government spokesperson.
Sweden said it was preparing a decision to ban travel from the UK, and would announce its decision on Monday.
The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain. An EU official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were still ongoing, said Sunday afternoon that the European Commission was in touch with member states on the rapidly developing situation.
WHO urges members to beef up measures
The World Health Organisation has called on its members to strengthen measures against the coronavirus.
"Across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches," a spokeswoman for WHO Europe said.
In the United States, authorities said that they were looking "very carefully" into the new virus variant seen in the UK, although held back from suggesting that the US would follow the example of European countries and suspend flights with the UK.
New virus strain no more deadly than previous strains
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said early data suggests the virus circulating in London and southeast England is up to 70 percent more transmissible. But he stressed “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines will be less effective against it.
The new strain has also been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, where there was one case that didn't spread further.
On Monday, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said it was "entirely possible" the new strain was already circulating in France, although recent tests had not detected it in the country.
Source: France 24, AFP and Reuters