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EU nations, Canada ban travel from UK due to new coronavirus strain
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 21 - 12 - 2020

Officials in both the UK and the EU will meet later on Monday after a host of the UK's European neighbors banned travel from the country due to a new more infectious strain of coronavorus that has spread rapidly across England and Wales.
As other European countries continue to deliberate on bringing in similar measures, France, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Bulgaria, Finland and Denmark are among the countries to have announced bans of varying lengths. Canada has now also banned flights arriving from the UK.
Bulgaria became the latest country to close its air, sea and land borders to travelers coming from the United Kingdom from midnight until Jan. 31 to prevent importing a new strain of the coronavirus, the Health Ministry said on Sunday, Reuters reported.
Earlier, the government said it was suspending flights from and to Britain until the end of January. Returning Bulgarians and people with long-term residence permits along with their family members will be allowed in the country, but will have to go into obligatory 10-day quarantine, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
The EU Council will discuss coordinating the EU response to the COVID-19 variant in the UK on Monday morning, Sebastian Fischer, a spokesperson for the German presidency of the council said on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson will chair an emergency COBRA meeting to discuss the UK being cut off from Europe, with freight in and out of the UK looking set to be severely impacted.
Especially of concern are the measures adopted by France, which said the movement of goods, "by road, air, sea or rail" would be included in its current 48-hour ban, according to a report in Euronews.
"Only unaccompanied freight will therefore be authorized. The flow of people or transport towards the United Kingdom will not be affected," the French government said in a statement.
French officials said the pause would buy time to find a "common doctrine" on how to deal with the threat, but it threw the busy cross-Channel route used by thousands of trucks a day into chaos.
The Port of Dover tweeted on Sunday night that its ferry terminal was "closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France".
Eurostar passenger trains from London to Paris, Lille, Brussels, and Amsterdam have also been canceled on Monday and Tuesday with hopes to resume services from Wednesday.
Germany suspended "from midnight" on Sunday all its air links with Great Britain, the Health Minister announced. Jens Spahn told television channel ARD that from Monday British and South African citizens would be barred from entry by sea, rail or road.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Sunday said he was issuing the order for 24 hours starting at midnight "out of precaution", and that train travel from the UK would be included in the ban.
"There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland," he said. He added that he hoped to have more clarity as of Tuesday.
The Dutch ban, from 6am CET on Sunday until Jan. 1, came hours after Britain issued stricter restrictions for part of the country to slow the new variant.
"An infectious mutation of the COVID-19 virus is circulating in the United Kingdom. It is said to spread more easily and faster and is more difficult to detect," the Dutch Health Ministry said in a statement.
The Dutch public health agency therefore "recommends that any introduction of this virus strain from the United Kingdom be limited as much as possible by limiting and/or controlling passenger movements."
Italy has banned flights from the UK from Sunday until Jan. 6, as the country detected a case of the new strain in a hospital in Rome. The patient had recently flown back from the UK, a statement from the Health Ministry said.
"I have signed a new decree that blocks flights from Great Britain and prohibits entry into Italy for people who have stayed there for the last 14 days," Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a statement.
Ireland imposed a 48-hour ban on flights from the UK, starting at midnight on Sunday. Irish Transport Secretary Eamon Ryan said ferries would continue to operate to allow freight to be shipped between the two countries.
"We need haulage coming in to keep our shelves full but other passengers will be restricted," he said.
Austria, Sweden, Romania, Finland, Denmark and Bulgaria are among other countries to have also imposed travel restrictions.
Denmark said flights to and from the UK would be suspended for 48 hours from Monday. Finland has put in place a two-week suspension of flights, also from Monday.
Canada announced its own ban on Sunday night. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that for 72 hours starting at midnight on Sunday, "all flights from the UK will be prohibited from entering Canada".
He added that travelers who arrived on Sunday would be subject to secondary screening and other health measures. A follow-up statement from the government said cargo flights were not included in the ban.
Morocco and Turkey also temporarily suspended flights to the UK on Sunday.
The Central American nation of El Salvador, meanwhile, said it would refuse entry to anyone who has visited Britain in the preceding 30 days.
Saudi Arabia has suspended international flights and closed its borders for a week.
The variant spreading across the UK is up to 70 percent more transmissable than other types, Johnson has said. But he stressed "there's no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness," or that vaccines will be less effective against it.
On Sunday, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock added to the alarm when he said "the new variant is out of control". The UK recorded 35,928 further confirmed cases, around double the number from a week ago.
The new strain currently accounts for over 62 percent of COVID infections in London, and was the cause of a further lockdown across the south-east of England.
But in his briefing to TV stations on Sunday, Germany's health minister Jens Spahn said EU experts have concluded that current vaccines against COVID-19 remain effective against the new variant.
"As far as we know at the moment and following talks between experts from the European authorities", the new strain "has no impact on the vaccines" which remain "just as effective", he said. — Agencies

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