EU countries shutting down travel to and from UK amid new highly infectious Covid-19 strain scare

Belgium, Italy, and other European nations are following the Netherlands’ lead and closing their borders for all travel to and from the UK, due to a new strain of SARS-CoV-2 that is spreading in southern England.

The string of travel bans announced on Sunday was started by Belgium. Its restrictions come into force at midnight and will affect air travel and Eurostar trains, which connect the country to the UK via France, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said in an interview. The restriction will remain in force for at least 24 hours, he told the Flemish television program ‘De Zevende Dag’.

The Belgian leader described the decision as a “precautionary measure” that followed a similar move by the Netherlands, which closed its border for the UK until at least January. De Croo said his government is taking scientific consultations and would extend its ban “if that proves necessary”.

“There are still many questions to be asked, about the mutation itself and about whether or not it has already reached the European mainland. We do not yet have a conclusive answer,” De Croo explained.

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Belgium already treats the UK as a “red zone” country and requires all people arriving from there to self-quarantine for up to seven days and take a Covid-19 test. Even before the British lockdown announcement, Belgium was preparing to tighten rules for international travel next week and possibly to ban UK nationals from entry starting January 1, to reflect a change in the country’s status after Brexit. The grace period after London’s divorce with the EU expires at the end of this month.

Later in the day, Italy said it was also suspending travel to and from the UK, due to concerns about the new variant. Announcing the new step, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said his government’s priority was to protect its own people.

Rome has ordered a countrywide lockdown for the upcoming holidays, shutting non-essential stores, restricting home visits, and instructing restaurants that they can only serve take-out food.

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A similar move was announced by Austria, which, like Italy, offered no immediate details on the timing of the ban, according to the news agency APA. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic has imposed stricter quarantine measures for people arriving from the UK.

According to AFP, Germany is considering a travel ban with the UK too, with a source saying it was seen as “a serious option” by Berlin.

The new strain of the virus is said to be significantly more infectious than those identified previously. British Health Secretary Matt Hanckock said Sunday the new version was “out of control” and that more restrictive measures were necessary to curb its spread.

“This new variant, you can catch it more easily from a smaller amount of virus being present,” he told the ‘Sophy Ridge on Sunday’ program. “All of the different measures that we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant.”

The Tier-4 lockdowns announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday came as a big disappointment to the British public, who were hopeful that a relaxation of the guidelines would come for Christmas as promised. Johnson said the new coronavirus strain has made the plan impossible to implement.

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