European countries ban UK flights to fend off new Covid-19 strain

PA
Netherlands bans UK flights for rest of year to fend off new Covid-19 strain
Netherlands bans UK flights for rest of year to fend off new Covid-19 strain

Several European countries are imposing bans on flights from the UK in an attempt to make sure that a new strain of coronavirus sweeping parts of southern England does not reach their shores.

The Netherlands is banning flights from the UK for at least the rest of the year while Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio also announced curbs were being imposed.

Belgium's prime minister issued a ban for at least 24 hours while the situation was assessed.

A government spokesman said Germany was working on a regulation to restrict travel between Germany and Britain to protect the country from the new coronavirus variant.

The government said it was in contact with its European partners about the travel restrictions.

It was not immediately clear when or for how long the restrictions would last.

The Netherlands ban came into effect on Sunday morning and the government said it was reacting to tougher measures imposed in London and surrounding areas on Saturday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The Netherlands said it will assess "with other European Union nations the possibilities to contain the import of the virus from the United Kingdom".

Mr Johnson said a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appears to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England.

"There's no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness," the Prime Minister stressed, or that vaccines will be less effective against it.

The Dutch government is already strongly advising its citizens not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

Britain has alerted the World Health Organisation that the new variant identified this week appears to be accelerating the spread of Covid-19, saying it accounted for some 60% of the capital's cases.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands different of mutations among samples of the virus causing Covid-19.

But many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.

Belgium has also banned flights from the UK and also banned rail connections.

Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said he was issuing the order for 24 hours starting at midnight "out of precaution".

"There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland," he said.

He hoped to have more clarity as of Tuesday.

Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said his country would also take action.

Mr Di Maio tweeted: "As the Government we have the duty to protect Italians, for this reason, after having advised the English (sic) Government, with the health ministry we are signing the measure to suspend flights with Great Britain."

Italian media reports suggest about two dozen flights are scheduled to arrive in Italy on Sunday, most in the northern region of Lombardy but also in Veneto and Lazio, which include Venice and Rome, respectively.

More than 327,000 Italian citizens are registered as living in Britain, with the unofficial total reaching up to 700,000.

Sunday is the last day that Italians can travel from one region to another before the Christmas holidays, due to a new partial lockdown imposed by the government to prevent a fresh surge in infections.

Austria and the Czech Republic were also imposing new measures against UK flights with Prague announcing stricter quarantine rules with all people arriving in the country having spent at least 24 hours in UK territory required to self-isolate.

Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is meeting on Monday to approve the first Covid-19 vaccine for the European Union's 27 nations, bringing vaccinations closer for millions of EU citizens.

The vaccine made by German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and American pharmaceutical company Pfizer is already in use in the United States, Britain, Canada and other countries.

The EMA moved its assessment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine forward by a week after heavy pressure from EU governments, especially Germany, which said that after agency approval it could start vaccinating citizens as early as next Sunday.