Spotlight: More countries suspend UK flights amid concern over highly infectious new COVID-19 strain

Monday, 2020-12-21 14:19:50
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A man wearing a face mask walks past the "London Eye" by the River Thames in London, Britain, on Dec. 21, 2020. (Photo: Xinhua)
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More countries have announced plans to ban flights from Britain following several European nations' similar decisions, as a new and more transmissible strain of COVID-19 has been reported in Britain.

TRAVEL BANS

Canada is to halt the entry of passenger flights from Britain for 72 hours from midnight Sunday, authorities said, making it one of the latest nations to take action over the situation in Britain.

On Sunday, Romania decided to suspend all flights to and from Britain starting on Monday, while the Turkish government said temporary suspension has been decided for flights from Britain and a few other nations to Turkey.

Britain's neighbor Ireland announced a ban on all flights flying into Ireland from Britain effective from midnight of Sunday. People in Britain, regardless of nationality, should not travel to Ireland, by air or sea, according to a statement on the government's website.

The domino effect of travel restrictions has been growing amid rising concern over the situation in Britain, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced stronger coronavirus restrictions to combat an alarming surge in infections linked to a virulent new strain.

"New variant may be up to 70 percent more transmissible," he told a Downing Street virtual press conference, adding the spread is being driven by the new variant of the virus.

After the announcement was made, the Netherlands became the first major European country to announce a ban on flights to Britain, followed by neighboring Belgium which also halted Britain-bound trains using the Channel Tunnel. Austria and Italy also followed suit.

France decided to suspend from Sunday midnight for 48 hours all travel from Britain, "including people related to the transport of goods, by road, air, sea or rail," according to the Prime Minister's Office.

A German government spokesperson said Sunday that Germany plans to limit travel possibilities with Britain and another country.

TIGHTER RESTRICTIONS

Johnson on Saturday announced a new Tier Four of coronavirus restrictions for London and other parts of England. England was previously under a three-tier system.

The planned relaxation of coronavirus rules for Christmas -- which allowed up to three households to meet during five days around Christmas -- was scrapped for a large part of southeast England, and cut to one day for rest of the region, Johnson said.

These restrictions as well as travel bans rolled out by other countries have thrown into chaos the Christmas plans of hundreds of thousands of people in Britain and Europe who intend to spend the holidays with families and friends on either side of the English Channel.

From Sunday morning, London, the South East and East of England moved into Tier Four restrictions, which require residents in those areas to stay at home, with limited exemptions. People are also urged to work from home when they can, and should not enter or leave Tier Four areas.

Meanwhile, non-essential retails and indoors gyms must close. The restrictions will last for two weeks and will be reviewed on Dec. 30.

The announcement of the Tier Four restrictions prompted thousands of people to flee the capital to escape a lockdown over Christmas.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday criticized people who escaped London before the Tier Four lockdown came into force in the day as "totally irresponsible," local news reported.

"We in government of course have a responsibility, but so does every single person," Hancock said.

NEW VARIANT

On Sunday, Hancock warned that the new strain of COVID-19 is "out of control" in Britain, urging Britons to behave as if they already have the virus, especially in areas under the new Tier Four restrictions.

"It is going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out," he said. "We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present."

The British government's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has said the new variant was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent.

By December, the new variant had become the "dominant variant" in London, and by the week ending Dec. 9, the new variant accounted for 62 percent of cases in London, 59 percent of those in eastern England, and 43 percent in the south-east, according to Vallance.

In March, when Britain saw a spike in daily new cases then, the British government announced that the country had switched from the "containment" phase to "delay" in response to the spread of virus, in hope of creating "herd immunity" to the disease instead of taking proactive and drastic countermeasures.

Official figures released Sunday showed that another 35,928 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, taking the country's tally to 2,040,147.

The coronavirus-related deaths in Britain rose by 326 to 67,401, the data showed.

Xinhua