European countries ban travel to UK

New variant of Covid-19 raises concerns of wider and faster spread

Many European countries and rising number across the globe already have or are planning to ban travel from Britain in a bid to curb possible spread of a more contagious variant of Covid-19. The Netherlands and Belgium have already suspended flights to this destination, BBC reported. Trains between UK and Belgium have also been suspended.

Italy's foreign minister also has earmarked his government was also mulls ban on flights. France and Germany are among others which plan to enforce similar action.

British PM Boris Johnson introduced a new tier four level of restrictions, scrapping a planned relaxation of rules over the Christmas period for millions of people. Within hours of the UK announcement on Saturday, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from the UK from 05:00 GMT on Sunday until 1 January. 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".

Belgium is suspending flights and train arrivals from the UK from midnight 23:00 GMT Sunday. PM 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 sign a measure to suspend flights from the UK.

In Germany, a health ministry official told AFP news agency that the government was also considering banning flights from the UK, and South Africa, where the variant has also been detected. The official said the German government was monitoring developments in the UK and working at "high pressure" to evaluate the new information and data regarding the new variant.

France has closed its border with the UK for 48 hours, with no lorries or ferry passengers able to sail from the port of Dover. News channel BFMTV reported that the government was "seriously" considering suspending flights and trains from the UK, and the government was "looking for European co-ordination". "A decision will be announced during the day," the channel said.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez said Spain also wanted a co-ordinated EU decision on the matter. In Ireland, urgent government talks are being held and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he expected a decision on a new advisory for travel from Britain. Austria is also planning a ban on flights from the UK, with details currently being worked out, Austrian media reported. In the UK, it was first identified in the middle of October from a sample taken in September.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the same mutation has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia. Dr Catherine Smallwood, of WHO Europe, said that as of 20 December, the numbers in those countries were small, nine in Denmark and one each in the other two nations. But she said other countries had notified WHO of other variants "that also carry some of the genetic changes seen in the UK variant".

India, Hong Kong, Canada and Switzerland were the latest to suspend UK flights. UK PM Boris Johnson was to chair a meeting of the government's emergency committee later. European Union member states are meeting in Brussels to discuss a co-ordinated response on travel bans for Britain.

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