Europe halts UK flights due to fresh coronavirus variant

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020 00:00 |
Qatar Airways flight crew walk with their luggage through the departures hall at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in West London yesterday. Photo/AFP

London, Monday

Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Canada have joined a growing list of nations in barring travel to and from the United Kingdom as part of a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus that is sweeping across southeastern England.

Sunday’s travel bans came hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in London and many of its surrounding areas had to be cancelled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.

Johnson also placed those regions under strict new Tier 4 restrictions, upending Christmas plans for millions of people, and prompting France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria to impose curbs on UK travel.

Argentina’s Interior Ministry said in its statement that the last flight from the UK before the suspension starts is scheduled to arrive in Buenos Aires on Monday morning.

Passengers and crew arriving on that flight will have to go into a seven-day quarantine, it said.

Chile’s government said non-resident foreigners who had been in the UK over the last 14 days would be banned from entering the country.

The measure will go into effect at midnight on Tuesday and last two weeks, the Chilean statement said.

Colombia’s President Ivan Duque also suspended all flights to the UK and said anyone who arrives in the country from Monday “who has been in the United Kingdom will enter a 14-day isolation in our country”. 

Canada announced its own ban on Sunday night. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that for 72 hours starting at midnight on Sunday, “all flights from the UK will be prohibited from entering Canada”.

He added that travellers 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.

The British government said Johnson would preside at a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA, on Monday in the wake of the other nations’ measures.

They come at a time of huge economic uncertainty for the UK, less than two weeks before it finally leaves the European Union on December 31, with talks on a post-Brexit trade relationship still deadlocked.

Johnson said on Saturday that a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70 percent more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and England’s southeast in recent weeks.

But he stressed “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines would be less effective against it.

On Sunday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock added to the alarm when he said “the new variant is out of control”.

The UK recorded 35,928 further confirmed cases, approximately double the number from a week ago.  - Agencies

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