European countries place travel bans on UK
London – European nations have begun to apply travel bans with the United Kingdom (UK) after it reported a more infectious and “out of control” coronavirus variant.
Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium are all halting flights and travel. The measures vary and are initially generally short-term.
A meeting of European Union countries will be held on Monday morning to discuss a more coordinated response.
The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday introduced a new tier four level of restrictions for those areas, scrapping a planned relaxation of rules over the Christmas period for millions of people.
Top health officials said that there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly, or would react differently to vaccines, but it was proving to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.
Within hours of the UK announcement on Saturday, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from the UK from 6 a.m. on Sunday until January 1.
Pending “greater clarity” on the situation in the UK, the Dutch government said that further “risk of the new virus strain being introduced to the Netherlands should be minimised as much as possible”.
The country on Sunday reported a daily increase of more than 13 000 cases – a new record, despite tough lockdown measures being applied on 14 December.
Belgium is suspending flights and train arrivals from the UK from midnight on Sunday. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television channel VRT the ban would be in place for at least 24 hours as a “precautionary measure”, adding “we will see later if we need additional measures”.
Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on his Facebook page that the government was about to signa measure to suspend flights from the UK.
The first case of the UK variant has also been detected in Italy, the Italian health ministry reported on Sunday. The patient is in isolation in Rome.
In Ireland, the government announced that flights arriving from the UK would be banned for 48 hours at least from midnight, and “in the interests of public health, people in Britain, regardless of nationality, should not travel to Ireland, by air or sea”.
Ferry crossings for freight would continue.
In Germany, an order from the ministry of transport said planes from the UK would not be allowed to land after midnight on Sunday, although cargo would be an exception. Minister of Health Jens Spahn said the UK variant had not yet been detected in Germany.
France has suspended all travel links with the UK for 48 hours from midnight. It said the period should be used to provide a co-ordinated European response.
Austria is also planning a ban on flights from the UK, with details currently being worked out, local media reported.
Bulgaria has suspended flights to and from the UK from midnight but, unlike the short-term measures in many other nations, its ban lasts until 31 January.
A European Council meeting will be held at 10:00 GMT on Monday on co-ordinating EU actions. (BBC)