EU countries are moving to ban flights from the United Kingdom over a new strain of the coronavirus that the British government warned is “out of control.”
The Netherlands on Sunday banned all passenger flights from Britain. Meanwhile, Belgium halted all travel from Britain to Belgium for at least 24 hours from midnight local time on Sunday.
Germany, France, and Austria are also thought to be planning to ban flights from the U.K. due to the newly identified strain of the coronavirus. Spain said it would “act in defense of the interests and rights of Spanish citizens” if the European Council failed to offer a “joint, co-ordinated response” to the outbreak of the new strain.
Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, said his country would be suspending flights as well but did not offer details about when the restrictions would take effect.
“As a government we have the duty to protect Italians and for this reason, after having warned the British government, the health ministry will sign a provision for the suspension of flights with the U.K. Our priority is to protect Italy and our compatriots,” Maio said.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the “new variant” of the virus was “out of control.”
“There is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it is highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine,” Hancock said in remarks to the House of Commons.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday evening announced new and stricter social-distancing restrictions for Britain ahead of the winter holidays in response to the new outbreak.
“The spread is being driven by the new variant of the virus,” Johnson said at a press conference. “It appears to spread more easily and may be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the earlier strain.”
“This is now spreading very fast,” the prime minister said. “It is with a very heavy heart that I say we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.”
Britain has seen more than two million cases of the coronavirus and more than 67,000 people have died in the country from the disease.