A host of European countries have banned travel from the UK to prevent the spread of a more virulent strain of coronavirus – with more expected to follow suit.
The Netherlands, Belgium and Italy have suspended flights – while trains from Belgium have also been banned. France and Germany are reportedly planning similar action.
Within hours of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street press conference last night, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from Britain from 05:00 GMT on Sunday morning until 1 January.
The Dutch government said that further “risk of the new virus strain being introduced to the Netherlands should be minimised as much as possible”, pending “greater clarity”.
Health ministry officials in Germany 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.
French news channel BFMTB reported that France was also “seriously” considering suspending flights and Eurostar services from the UK – adding that Paris was looking for “European coordination”
Johnson issued a new “stay at home” order, covering London and most of the south and east of England, on Saturday – and drastically restricted plans for Christmas mixing, in response to a new, fast-spreading strain of coronavirus.
Despite reassuring the British public that the festive “bubble” plan would go ahead – and claiming it would be “inhuman” to cancel Christmas – the prime minister has done just that, announcing the creation of a stricter set of ‘tier 4’ rules.
Only households outside tier 4 will now be able to mix for Christmas in England – and those households will only be able to do so for Christmas Day, with long-distance travel discouraged.
The new rules are essentially a repeat of the four-week lockdown in November – meaning non-essential retail, leisure venues and services like hairdressers will not be allowed to open.
“We cannot continue with Christmas as planned,” Johnson said at a hastily-convened Downing Street press conference on Saturday evening.
The spread of the virus throughout the south was now “being driven by the new variant of the virus,” the prime minister said. “It may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the old variant,” he added.
Scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NervTag) concluded that the mutant strain identified by Public Health England – known as VUI2020/01 – was spreading more quickly.