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Countries Restrict Travel to U.K. in Effort to Stop Spread of New Coronavirus Strain

Travelers look at the information boards at King’s Cross station, as EU countries impose a travel ban from the U.K. following the coronavirus outbreak, in London, Britain, December 21, 2020. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

An increasing number of European countries have moved to restrict travel from Britain in an attempt to keep a more contagious strain of the coronavirus from spreading past England’s borders.

France suspended freight transit across the English Channel for 48 hours, leaving thousands of truck drivers stuck in their vehicles on Monday as traffic leading to England’s ports came to a standstill. 

European Union leaders are set to meet on Monday to draw up a “common doctrine” for handling the threat posed by the new variant, which officials say is 70 percent more contagious than other strains of the virus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reportedly plans to call a meeting of the government’s emergency committee.

French transportation minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said in a tweet on Monday that France was working to “set up a robust health protocol” to allow traffic leaving Britain to continue, though such a solution remains up in the air.

Hours after Johnson announced stricter lockdown restrictions in the U.K. to prevent further spread of the new strain, a number of countries restricted travel from Britain, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland Italy and the Netherlands. Poland announced it would suspend flights between the two countries starting Monday night.

Hong Kong, Canada, India, Iran, Israel and Russia issued restrictions as well.

In the U.S., New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the federal government to take action, saying that “right now, this variant in the U.K. is getting on a plane and flying to J.F.K.”

Meanwhile, British officials said the new strain had been found in several other countries and there is no reason to believe that it causes more serious illness.

Estimates of higher transmissibility come from modeling and has not been confirmed by lab experiments, according to Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a scientific adviser to the British government.

“Over all, I think we need to have a little bit more experimental data,” Cevik told the New York Times. “We can’t entirely rule out the fact that some of this transmissibility data might be related to human behavior.”

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