A growing list of European Union nations moved to ban flights from the U.K. on Sunday and others were considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from spreading to the continent.
France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on U.K. 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 put those regions into a strict new Tier 4 restriction level, upending Christmas plans for millions.
France banned all travel from the U.K. for 48 hours from midnight Sunday, the prime minister’s office announced. The French statement said that would buy authorities time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat. It specified that “flows of people or transport to the U.K. are not affected”.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he was issuing a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution”. Belgium also halted train links to Britain, including the Eurostar.
“There are a great many questions about this new mutation,” he said, adding he hoped to have more clarity by Tuesday (December 22).
The German government 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, but news agency dpa reported it would be in place at least until Dec. 31.
Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, also 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 U.K., for at least the rest of the year. Ireland issued a 48-hour flight ban. Austria and Italy said they would halt flights from the U.K., but did not say exactly when that would take place.
Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said an order signed Sunday blocks flights from Britain and prohibits entry into Italy by anyone who has been in the U.K. in the last 14 days. The order bans plane travel until January 6.
The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain.
High-speed train operator Eurostar cancelled its trains between London, Brussels and Amsterdam beginning Monday, but kept trains operating on the London-to-Paris route.