Countries ban travel to the U.K. amid new strain of coronavirus

 Monday, December 21, 2020 


Almost all major European countries have banned travel from the U.K. after a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus was discovered in the country. The World Health Organisation called for stronger containment measures after the British government warned the status of the new strain to be “out of control”.

As WHO urged its European members to decide upon measures against the new variant of COVID-19 circulating in Britain, France was quick to block people and goods crossing the Channel. Meanwhile Germany, Ireland, Italy, Austria, Romania, The Netherlands and Belgium also announced that the countries were moving to block air travel.

According to a source close to the German government the restriction is likely to be adopted by the entire 27-member European Union and a similar joint response over sea, road and rail links with Britain was also being discussed. On the other hand, the Netherlands also imposed a ban on U.K. flights from 6 AM (0500 GMT) on Sunday and Belgium decided to follow suit from midnight with a ban on planes and trains from the U.K.

Austria’s health ministry announced in a press statement that the country has also decided to impose a flight ban and were working out on the details. Rome and Berlin also declared flight suspension would to and from Britain while Dublin said it would suspend air links with Britain for “at least” 48 hours. Romania also said it had banned all flights to and from the U.K. for two weeks starting Monday afternoon. France’s ban on all but unaccompanied freight arriving from Britain is particularly devastating, as companies are rushing to shift merchandise with days to go until Britain finally quits EU trade structures in the wake of Brexit.

On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel held a conference call about the latest concern. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his statement that the infectiousness of the new strain had forced his hand into imposing a lockdown across much of England over the Christmas period.

At the same time, several other countries around the world also joined the European nations and closed borders to travellers from the U.K. Israel, Iran, Croatia, Argentina, Chile, Morocco and Kuwait are among the other destinations to have brought in restrictions on U.K. travel. Meanwhile India and Hong Kong have also banned flight services to the country. Saudi Arabia has suspended all international flights for one week because of the pandemic and Bulgaria suspended flights to and from the U.K. until January 31, 2020.  

With Europe becoming the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic broke out were already ringing alarm bells across the continent with a new even more infectious strain of the virus now raging in parts of Britain. U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock also confirmed in his press statement that the new strain was out of control and the country has to work towards getting it under control. A spokeswoman for WHO Europe also said in her press statement “across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.”  

It was back in September that scientists first discovered the new variant, which is believed to be 70% more transmissible. It was on Friday that Public Health England notified the government when modeling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain. However, Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty pointed out that while the new strain was greatly more infectious, no current evidence to suggest that it causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments is available, although urgent work is underway to confirm this. European Union experts believe it will not impact the effectiveness of existing vaccines.

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