Travel bans on UK expand due to concern over spread of new Covid-19 variant

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More than 40 countries have banned UK arrivals because of concerns over the spread of a new variant of coronavirus, while France has closed its border with the UK for 48 hours, with no trucks able cross from Dover.

Parked-up freight trucks at the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England on December 21, 2020.

Parked-up freight trucks at the Port of Dover in Kent, south east England on Monday.
Photo: AFP

India, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Russia, Jordan and Hong Kong suspended travel for Britons after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a mutated variant of the virus, up to 70 percent more transmissible, had been identified in the country. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely.

Several other nations have suspended travel from Britain including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Israel and Canada – although scientists said the strain may already be circulating in countries with less advanced detection methods than the United Kingdom.

France shut its border to arrivals of people and trucks from Britain for 48 hours, closing off one of the most important trade arteries with mainland Europe.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that French President Emmanuel Macron was keen resolve border issues within hours.

“It was an excellent conversation with the French president: he stressed he was keen I would say to sort it out in the next few hours if we can,” Johnson said.

“Our teams will be working on it flat out and if we can result then that would be great, but we will do it as fast as we can.”

Johnson said only 20 percent of freight was affected by the border closure with France and supermarket supply chains remained “strong and robust”.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 21, 2020, after a string of countries banned travellers from the UK.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at a media conference on Monday.
Photo: AFP

As families and truck drivers tried to navigate the travel bans to get back home in time for Christmas, British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s said shortages would start to appear within days if transport ties were not quickly restored.

“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit, all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year,” Sainsbury’s said.

But retailers have played down fears of immediate food shortages.

France’s FNTR national road haulage federation said: “No driver wants to deliver to the UK now, so the UK is going to see its freight supply dry up.”

Travellers at an almost deserted departures hall at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in west London on December 21, 2020, as a string of countries around the world banned travellers arriving from the UK.

Travellers at an almost deserted departures hall at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport on Monday as a string of countries around the world banned travellers arriving from the UK.
Photo: AFP / Anadolu Agency

EU officials met via video to discuss a co-ordinated response on travel bans for UK – but no decision is expected today. The bloc is on course to start Covid-19 vaccinations within a week after its medicines regulator approved the use of a shot from Pfizer and BioNTech on Monday.

The World Health Organization expects to get more detail soon on the potential impact of the new coronavirus strain.

Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergency expert, said countries were acting out of a “precautionary principle” in reaction to the variant and said that was “prudent”.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the US government to take steps to prevent the new strain entering the country, which has been worst hit by Covid-19 with almost 318,000 deaths. US Assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir said nothing had yet been decided on any travel ban.

Brexit

The UK prime minister Johnson said there were still problems in Brexit trade talks and that Britain would thrive without a deal.

Johnson said he spoke to the French president about border issues, but not about Brexit.

“The position is unchanged: there are problems,” Johnson told a news conference when asked if there would be a trade deal. “WTO terms would be more than satisfactory for the UK. And we can certainly cope.”

“Its vital that everybody understands that the UK has got to be able to control its own laws completely and also that we’ve got to be able to control our own fisheries,” he said

– Reuters / BBC

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