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Nations bar UK travel over "out of control" virus strain

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A growing list of European Union nations has barred travel from the UK and others are considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus from spreading to the continent.

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France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on UK travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be cancelled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.

Johnson immediately placed those regions under a strict new Tier 4 restriction level, upending Christmas plans for millions.

France banned all travel from the UK for 48 hours from midnight Sunday, including trucks carrying freight through the tunnel under the English Channel or from the port of Dover on England’s south coast.

French officials said the pause would buy time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat, but it threw the busy cross-channel route used by thousands of trucks a day into chaos.

Eurostar passenger trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were also halted.

Germany said all flights coming from Britain, except cargo flights, were no longer allowed to land starting midnight Sunday. It didn’t immediately say how long the flight ban would last.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he was issuing a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution”.

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

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

But he stressed “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines will 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, around double the number from a week ago.

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, called a special crisis meeting on Monday to coordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.

The Netherlands banned flights from the UK for at least the rest of the year. Ireland issued a 48-hour flight ban. Italy said it would block flights from the UK until January 6, and an order prohibits entry into Italy by anyone who has been in the UK in the last 14 days.

The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain.

Beyond Europe, Israel also said it was banning flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa because those were the countries where the mutation is found.

-AAP

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