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Could UK's rapid COVID cases ruin Easter travel plans as easyJet and BA cancel flights?

Watch: Huge queues form at two of England's major airports

British holidaymakers face a chaotic Easter period after airlines cancelled over 300 flights and Eurotunnel warned of three hour delays as COVID-19 cases surge to 5 million.

Hundreds of easyJet (EZJ.L) and British Airways flights were cancelled over the weekend, with dozens more grounded on Monday amid a fresh surge in COVID infections, leaving consumers stranded.

EasyJet blamed the cancellations on high levels of staff shortages due to sickness. It cancelled 62 flights to and from the UK on Monday, out of around 1,645 that were scheduled. The budget flight operator has axed at least 222 trips since Friday.

British Airways has scrapped around 90 flights to and from Heathrow so far on Monday, while 50 were cancelled last week, with 10 flights being late notice overnight cancellations due to staff COVID sickness.

EasyJet apologised for the string of cancellations on Monday, saying: "We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to customers on affected flights.

EasyJet and British Airways cancelled hundreds of flights over the weekend, with dozens more grounded on Monday amid a fresh surge in COVID infections. Photo: Horacio Villalobos#Corbis/Corbis via Getty (Horacio Villalobos via Getty Images)

Read more: Top tips to save money during the Easter holidays

"Customers have been contacted and provided with their options which include rebooking onto an alternative flight or receiving a voucher or full refund."

It comes as COVID cases hit a record high since the onset of the pandemic with one in 13 people, or some 4.9 million, in England estimated to have had contracted the virus in the week ending 26 March.

Several airlines, including both British Airways and easyJet, have recently dropped their requirements to wear face masks on flights.

Watch: Airline refunds -what are your rights as a consumer?

EasyJet said it tried to offset the disruption by "rostering" standby crews, but it was forced to make some cancellations and would consolidate flights where it had multiple options.

An easyJet spokesperson said: "As a result of the current high rates of COVID infections across Europe, like all businesses easyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness.

"We have taken action to mitigate this through the rostering of additional standby crew this weekend, however, with the current levels of sickness, we have also decided to make some cancellations in advance which were focused on consolidating flights where we have multiple frequencies so customers have more options to rebook their travel, often on the same day.

"Unfortunately it has been necessary to make some additional cancellations for today (Sunday) and tomorrow (Monday). We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause to customers on affected flights."

Read more: UK travel sector recovery up in the air as staff shortages and higher fuel prices bite

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: "Airlines have promised vouchers to compensate for any disruption, but this is the last thing they want to do, given that they are still trying to work their way through vouchers issued during the pandemic.

"If the current disruption continues into the Easter weekend, we could easily see airlines like easyJet have to downgrade their earnings forecasts.

"Making matters worse is the fact that oil prices remain stubbornly high which is putting pressure on fuel costs."

EasyJet's cancellations come after travel chaos hit some of the UK's biggest airports at the weekend, with passengers at Heathrow and Manchester airports stuck in long queues waiting to check in and security delays as they arrived to jet off for Easter holidays.

Heathrow airport appeared to blame high passenger numbers for the delays on Monday.

Eurotunnel also warned motorists heading abroad to expect delays after a train temporarily blocked the tunnel linking England to France.

The company, which runs services from Folkestone to France, warned Eurostar services could be delayed by nearly three hours, apologising in a tweet and urging passengers to "check in as normal".

A spokesperson for the operator said: "As a result of a technical issue with a freight shuttle overnight, Eurotunnel is currently operating a reduced service. We expect to have full services running again later in the day."

Meanwhile, as queues build up at airports, travellers crossing the English Channel face a slowdown as a lorry build up at Dover enters its third day.

The suspension of P&O ferry services and a shortage of vessels for rival DFDS have impacted capacity over the weekend. There were queues of up to nine hours reported on roads in the area as Kent Police implemented measures to control the movement of HGVs around the coastal town.