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Covid: Nations impose UK travel bans over new variant – BBC News

Covid: Nations impose UK travel bans over new variant – BBC News

A virtually deserted terminal at Gatwick Airport on Sunday

PA Media

European nations have begun to apply travel bans with the 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.

An EU meeting will be held on Monday morning to discuss a more co-ordinated 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.

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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% more transmissible.

Which countries have acted and how?

Within hours of the UK announcement on Saturday, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from the UK from 06:00 (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”.

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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 sign a 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. Health Minister Jens Spahn said the UK variant had not yet been detected in Germany.

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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.

In response to France’s ban, Eurotunnel has said it will suspend access to its Folkestone terminal from 23:00 GMT for traffic heading to Calais. People booked to travel on Monday can get a refund. Trains will still run from Calais to Folkestone.

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.

What is the new variant?

In the UK, it was first identified in the middle of October from a sample taken in September.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday said the new strain “was out of control. We have got to get it under control”, admitting that this was “an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year”.

The World Health Organization (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”.

Coronavirus

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The new UK variant has been shown to spread faster than the original virus – up to 70% more transmissible based on modelling figures – but scientific details on the genetic changes, and how they could affect the behaviour of Covid-19, remain unclear.

Although there is no indication the variant will be more resistant to already-developed vaccines, the mutation does involve the spike protein of the virus.

This is the part that helps it infect cells – and also the part the vaccines have been designed to target. So although scientific experts have warned against an alarmist response, they also say it is essential to track the variant and try to stay ahead of the virus.

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Published at Sun, 20 Dec 2020 19:02:00 +0000

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Written by Riel Roussopoulos

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