Travellers prepare to depart on the high-speed Eurostar service from St Pancras International railway station in London on Sunday. AFP
European countries began to close their doors to travellers from the United Kingdom on Sunday, with several banning planes and trains over concerns about a new coronavirus strain that is spreading quickly through the country.
The World Health Organistation (WHO) called for stronger containment measures as the British government warned that a potent new strain of the virus was "out of control."
Belgium said it would close its borders to flights and trains — including the popular Eurostar service — coming from the United Kingdom.
Italy also ordered a suspension of flights from Britain, as did the Netherlands.
"The COVID variant recently discovered in London is worrying and will need to be investigated by our scientists," Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said.
"In the meantime we choose the path of maximum prudence."
Germany will restrict flights from Britain and South Africa — which has also detected a new coronavirus strain, a government spokesman said.
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that the new strain had led to spiralling infection numbers. His government tightened its COVID-19 restrictions for London and nearby areas, and also reversed plans to ease restrictions over the Christmas period.
The travel curbs also compound problems for the United Kingdom as it finally exits the European Union on Dec.31 after a transition period this year. London and Brussels have so far failed to reach a post-Brext trade deal, raising the prospect of chaos in goods traffic.
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel held a conference call on Sunday about the matter, according to the Elysee palace in Paris. Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said the ban on incoming travel from Britain covers
People enjoy the Christmas decorations outside The Ivy Chelsea Garden in London. Reuters
Eurostar services via the Channel Tunnel and will take effect for at least 24 hours from midnight on Sunday, broadcaster VRT said.
Belgium was also in touch with France over road transit passengers from Britain, VRT said.
The Italian order blocked any flights departing from Britain and prohibited anyone who had transited through it in the last 14 days from entering Italy.
Passengers check in at Frankfurt International Airport. AFP
The Italian health ministry said flights leaving for Britain would not be affected, to allow those living there to return home.
The Netherlands banned flights carrying passengers from the United Kingdom from Sunday and the restrictions will remain in place until Jan. 1, the Dutch government said.
Germany wants to ban all flights from the United Kingdom from midnight until Jan.6, Bild newspaper said, citing government sources.
Austria is also planning to ban flights from Britain, the APA news agency said, citing the health ministry.
People at St Pancras station in London wait to board the last train to Paris. AP
At London's St. Pancras International station, the terminal for Eurostar, thousands of travellers were trying to secure places on trains.
"We got the last two tickets for today," said a Frenchman named Leny. "We each respectively had tickets for Monday and Tuesday. But given the situation and what is happening we didn't want to take any risk. And we were the last to be able to do so."
The Spanish government said it had asked the European Commission and the European Council for a coordinated EU response to the new situation. Otherwise it would act unilaterally, it said.
Some intensive care specialists are trying to hire more permanent staff. Others want to create a reservist "army" of medical professionals ready to be deployed wherever needed to work in wards with seriously ill patients.
Like millions of other Britons, the prime minister will be able to have a trim and a tipple on Saturday, when the country takes its biggest step yet out of coronavirus lockdown with the reopening in England of restaurants, pubs and hairdressers, along with secular and sacred venues including cinemas and church.
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Emirates Chairman and Chief Executive, said: “I would like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed for their latest directives to reopen air travel which show their vision for Dubai as a world leader in business and tourism.”
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