China has become the latest country to suspend direct flights to and from the UK on Thursday, in an attempt to tackle the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus.
“After much consideration, China has decided to take reference from other countries and suspend flights to and from UK," Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told reporters at a daily briefing.
“China will closely monitor relevant developments and dynamically adjust control measures depending on the situation," Wang said in comments reported by Reuters.
There are currently eight weekly flights between mainland China and the United Kingdom — including flights operated by Air China (0753.HK), China Eastern Airlines (0670.HK) and China Southern Airlines (1055.HK), and British Airways (IAG.L) — that will be cancelled, according to figures from aviation data provider Variflight.
Many countries have placed curbs on travel from the UK in Europe and beyond. The EU said in a statement earlier this week that “all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged,” but “flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions.”
Other countries around the world have also banned UK travel including Turkey, India, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Argentina, Jamaica, Morocco, Chile, and Colombia.
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A new, fast-spreading variant of the COVID-19 virus prompted the UK government to impose a new tier (Tier 4) on London and the south east of England, with more of the country to enter Tier 4 on Boxing Day.
So far, the new strain has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia, while South Africa has a different, yet still more rapidly spreading mutation to contend with, known as 501.V2.
The UK government announced that passengers travelling from South Africa into England from 24 December will not be permitted to enter, reflecting the increased risk from the new strain of coronavirus.
Direct flights to and from South Africa will be banned.
British and Irish nationals, visa holders and permanent residents arriving from South Africa will be able to enter the UK but must self-isolate for 10 days along with their household, according to the government.
The government said: “The decision follows the release of further information from health authorities in South Africa reporting an outbreak of COVID-19, with a variant strain spreading in some provinces.
“This is different to the UK variant, meaning a travel ban is critical to prevent further domestic infection.”
Two cases of the new variant, which originated in South Africa, have been identified in the UK, according to Public Health England. The two cases were identified in the UK on 22 December and both had been in contact with someone who had travelled from South Africa.
The UK government said they are “working closely with international partners to understand the changes in the virus that have been reported in South Africa and we are conducting a programme of further research here in the UK to inform our risk assessments.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser on COVID-19 to PHE & Test and Trace, said: “We are investigating this new variant of SARS-CoV-2 which originated in South Africa. Viruses often evolve and this is not unusual. We are carrying out work as a priority to understand the potential risk this variant may cause.
“It is important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccine would not protect against it.
“The best way to stop infection is to stick to the rules — wash our hands, wear a face covering and keep our distance from others.”
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