Countries across the world ban flights from UK due to fast-spreading new COVID-19 strain
A number of countries — including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Israel — have announced that they will ban flights from the UK due to fears over a new variant of the coronavirus, which could be 70% more infectious.
The moves come after the Dutch government confirmed at least one case of the same mutation that has prompted parts of Britain to return to lockdown rules.
The country’s health ministry said the case in Holland had been identified at the beginning of December and is being investigated. It said that the air travel ban from 5am (GMT) on Sunday 20 December will likely stay in place until at least 1 January.
"An infectious mutation of the COVID-19 virus is circulating in the United Kingdom. It is said to spread more easily and faster and is more difficult to detect," the Dutch health ministry said in a statement.
The UK recorded a further 35,928 of coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period. Another 326 deaths have been announced within 28 days of a positive test.
READ MORE: Christmas cancelled for London, South East, and East England with new COVID-19 Tier 4 restrictions
Here’s a breakdown of the countries that have made a judgement on the new strain in the UK so far:
Europe’s biggest economy has announced it will restrict travel between Germany and the UK from midnight on Sunday 20 December. It has also banned travellers from South Africa, after the two countries reported identifying a new coronavirus strain.
A regulation is being drawn up and the federal government is in contact with European partners, a spokesperson for the German government said.
Similar measures have been announced by Belgium, which has suspended flights. Trains to Belgium have also been banned.
Italy’s foreign minister Luigi Di Maio, said that the country’s government had decided to act after Britain “raised the alarm”over a new form of COVID-19 strain.
He said that the government has a “responsibility to protect Italians” and as such “after having warned the British government, the health ministry will sign a provision for the suspension of flights with the UK.”
Austria joined the raft of countries and said it would also halt flights from the UK, however, it had not confirmed the details on the timing of the ban at the time of publication.
Following the lead of other countries, Bulgaria also announced it will suspend flights to and from the UK over the new variant of COVID-19.
France and Spain
Other EU countries such as France are also reportedly planning similar course.
Meanwhile Spain has said that it is liaising with the European Commission and the European Council for a coordinated response amid the new situation.
It is not just EU countries banning Britons, Israel has also banned all entry to all non-Israelis flying from the UK following the emergence of the new variation of COVID-19.
Kuwait's civil aviation authority has added Britain to its high-risk list of countries following the outbreak of the new strain, meaning all flights from the UK are banned.
The Gulf state banned commercial flights to 31 countries which it deemed a high risk due to the spread of the virus, in August.
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said there would be a strict travel ban from Scotland to the rest of the UK throughout the festive season.
Ireland could follow the lead of several EU countries and also ban travellers from the UK amid the coronavirus mutation. Restrictions could possibly come into force from midnight on Sunday and remain in place for an initial period of 48 hours, before being subject to review.
Irish health secretary Stephen Donnelly will be making a statement on the coronavirus development in the UK. The measures could apply to both flights and ferries.
The country has not yet announced a ban but it is imposing stricter quarantine measures for people arriving from the UK.
Watch: UK reports highest daily increase in cases as concerns grow over new virus strain
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned its European members on Sunday to increase measures to prevent the spread of the new COVID-19 variant.
It said that outside Britain, nine cases of the new strain have been reported in Denmark, as well as one case in the Netherlands and another in Australia.
The news comes the day after the prime minister and the Welsh and Scottish devolved governments put 18 million people across the UK under severe restrictions until end of 2020.
The hit on the airline industry
COVID-19 has brought the airline industry to its knees following global lockdowns and airline groundings, which saw passenger levels retract to record lows and profit losses steepen.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects a net loss of $118.5bn (£87.6bn) in 2020, a deeper recision of its $84.3bn forecast in June.
A net loss of $38.7bn is also expected in 2021, more than double the projected $15.8bn loss six months ago.
In line with the travel restrictions, Transport for London (TFL) has told travellers that they should not leave as the capital enters Tier 4 restrictions. TFL advised people to only travel for work, if they cannot work from home or for other legally permitted reasons.
“If you do need to travel, please walk or cycle where possible. To aid social distancing for those who do need to travel, we are continuing to run as full a service as possible on the public transport network,” TFL said. It is also running an “enhanced cleaning regime” to help keep everyone safe.
Tour operator TUI (TUI.AG) has cancelled all flights out of London Luton airport as it falls under the new Tier 4 measures. But TUI will “continue to operate out of Gatwick and Stansted which are located in tier two areas,” the company said.
The Dutch public health body, the RIVM, therefore "recommends that any introduction of this virus strain from the United Kingdom be limited as much as possible by limiting and/or controlling passenger movements.”
Currently, the Netherlands is under a five-week lockdown until mid-January with schools and all non-essential shops closed to slow a surge in the virus.
PM Mark Rutte has advised Dutch citizens not to travel unless strictly necessary.
"Over the next few days, together with other EU member states, (the government) will explore the scope for further limiting the risk of the new strain of the virus being brought over from the UK," a government statement said.
A government statement said that Rutte’s cabinet is “closely monitoring” the developments of the COVID-19 virus abroad and is “investigating the possibilities for additional measures for other modes of transport.”
It added: "In the coming days, it will, in close collaboration with other EU member states, look into the possibilities of further restricting imports of the virus from the United Kingdom."
What the restrictions look like
Similarly, the UK’s Foreign Office has advised against all but “essential travel” to the Netherlands.
“Travellers should consult their airline operator before travelling. This ban does not currently apply to car, ferry and train passengers, though the Dutch government are keeping this under review and advise against all but essential travel via these means,” the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) said.
Additionally, all passengers arriving in the Netherlands are required to self-isolate for 10 days.
On Saturday, prime minister Boris Johnson announced stricter coronavirus measures in London, the South East and East of England amid concerns about the spread of a new strain of the virus which may be up to 70% more transmissible.
Johnson introduced a fourth tier of COVID-19 restrictions in the regions, as well as unveiling tighter plans around households gathering during Christmas.
The devolved governments of Wales and Scotland Wales also announced new measures on Saturday.
All of Wales will be placed into the highest level of lockdown (tier 4) with all non-essential shops closing.
Meanwhile, cross-border travel has been banned in Scotland. Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon there would be a strict travel ban from Scotland to the rest of the UK throughout the festive season.
We’re in close contact with UK 🇬🇧 officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant. They’ll continue to share info & results of their analysis & ongoing studies. We’ll update Member States & public as we learn more about the characteristics of this virus variant & any implications.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) December 19, 2020
The WHO said it was in "close contact" with the UK about the new strain of the virus, with the international health body and Britain sharing information and analysis about the outbreak.
England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the UK had informed WHO about the development after modelling showed a rapid spread in South East England.
During a press conference on Saturday, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said the new coronavirus strain is thought to have emerged in the UK in mid-September. By December, it was responsible for more than 60% of infections in London, Vallance said.
The Tier 4 restrictions mean that 18 million people in the UK will now be unable to spend Christmas with their loved ones.
For residents in tiers one, two and three, rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only. In tier four, people should not mix with anyone outside their own household, apart from support bubbles, the PM said.
Watch: Matt Hancock: The new variant is out of control