A growing number of European countries on Sunday halted flights from the UK following the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19, said by officials to spread faster than others.
The new strain of coronavirus, which prompted the UK government to impose a Tier 4 lockdown in London and southeastern England and tighten restrictions for all of England over the festive period, is “out of control,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.
The Netherlands is banning all passenger flights coming from the United Kingdom from Sunday morning until the new year in order to minimize the risk of the new strain from spreading in the the country “as much as possible”, the government said in a press release.
The Dutch government said the same variant of the virus had been detected in the Netherlands in a sample from a case from early December, and that it is conducting further investigations to determine if there are any other related cases.
Meanwhile, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that Belgium will block travelers from the UK for 24 hours on Monday as a “precautionary measure,” though the ban could be extended if necessary.
“As a precautionary measure, we have decided to stop flights from the UK from midnight for a period of 24 hours, and just as importantly for our country, to do the same for the Eurostar (train) — because that’s actually the main way that people from the UK come into our country,” he said, speaking to CNN affiliate VRT’s Sunday morning news program “De Zevende Dag.”
Italy will also suspend flights to and from the United Kingdom, according to Foreign Affairs Minister Luigi Di Maio on Sunday, who did not say when the ban would come into place, or for how long. The Czech Republic imposed a mandatory 10-day quarantine on anyone arriving from the UK starting Sunday in response to the new coronavirus strain identified there, the Foreign Ministry announced.
Hancock said the new variant, which can spread faster than other strains but is not more dangerous, had to be controlled.
“The only way you can do that is by restricting social contacts and essentially, especially in Tier 4 areas, everybody needs to behave as if they may well have the virus and that is the way that we can get it under control and keep people safe,” he said Sunday.
Tough coronavirus restrictions
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday broke the news that London and large parts of southern and eastern England, where cases are surging, would enter Tier 4 restrictions, similar to the lockdown seen in Spring — just days after reiterating his pledge to relax rules over the Christmas period.
Johnson outlined that in Tier 4 areas under the toughest restrictions, there will be no possibility for household mixing over Christmas. In areas under lower alert levels in England, Scotland and Wales, mixing will now be permitted only on Christmas Day.