Travel bans shutting off UK over virus strain fears

2020-12-22 12:02:59

Violinists entertain metro passengers amid heightened coronavirus concerns in Paris on Saturday. [Photo/Agencies] Highly infectious strain sees more nations, regions follow Europe lead A growing list of countries and regions worldwide have barred travel from the United Kingdom and others are considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of the coronavirus sweeping across southern England from spreading. Alarm bells were ringing across Europe, which last week became the first region to pass 500,000 deaths since the pandemic broke out. France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria announced the restrictions on UK travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be canceled because of the rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant. Johnson was scheduled to chair a crisis meeting on Monday. France banned all travel from the UK for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday, including trucks carrying freight through the tunnel under the English Channel or from the port of Dover on England's south coast. French officials said the pause would buy time to find a "common doctrine" on how to deal with the threat, but it threw into chaos the busy cross-channel route used by thousands of trucks a day. Germany said all flights from Britain, except cargo services, were no longer allowed to land from midnight on Sunday. It didn't say how long the flight ban would last. Eurostar passenger trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were also halted. Canada announced its own ban on Sunday night. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that for 72 hours starting at Sunday midnight, "all flights from the UK will be prohibited from entering Canada". He added that travelers who arrived on Sunday would be subject to secondary screening and other health measures. A follow-up statement from the government said cargo flights were not included in the ban. A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization said in an interview that "across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches". On Monday, Hong Kong said it was banning all flights arriving from the UK from midnight, and the quarantine of passengers who arrived from Britain in the last two weeks is being extended. Wang Wenbin, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the Chinese government had noted relevant reports of the new virus variant and will study the issue carefully and deal with it in a scientific and proper way to ensure the healthy and orderly flow of Chinese and foreign tourists. On Monday, Norway and Denmark also said that they were temporarily banning flights from Britain for 48 hours. Virus 'out of control' British Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday said that the government had no choice but to cancel plans for a relaxation of rules over Christmas and strict measures to control the virus could remain in place "until a vaccine is rolled out". Under new Tier 4 rules, around a third of the population of England is now forbidden from spending Christmas with other households after Johnson on Saturday abandoned plans to allow five-day gatherings. He had earlier defended the policy relaxations for the festive period. The tough new rules were quickly brought in when scientists presented ministers with evidence of a new variant of the virus that makes it 70 percent more transmissible than other strains in circulation. It was "important for everybody to act like they might have the virus", as Hancock said the virus was not under control. "The new variant is out of control and we need to bring it under control." The measures are due to be reviewed after two weeks, though Hancock suggested they could remain in place "for the next couple of months". On the economic front, lawmakers in the United States have reached a deal for a financial package worth nearly $900 billion to combat the pandemic. The deal agreed on Sunday is expected to include aid for vaccine distribution and logistics, extra benefits for the unemployed of $300 a week, and a new round of $600 stimulus checks. Agencies, Jonathan Powell in London and Liu Xuan in Beijing contributed to this story.