Several EU nations halt UK flights, fearing virus variant

BERLIN (AP) — Several European Union (EU) nations yesterday banned flights from the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany was considering limiting such flights to make sure that a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England does not establish a strong foothold on the continent.

The Netherlands banned flights from the UK for at least the rest of the year while Belgium issued a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight and also halted train links to Britain, including the Eurostar. Austria and Italy said they would halt flights from the UK but did not give details on any timing of the ban.

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Twitter that the government was preparing the measure “to protect Italians” from the new coronavirus variant. About two dozen flights were scheduled to arrive in Italy yesterday, most in the northern region of Lombardy but also in Veneto and Lazio, which include Venice and Rome respectively.

German officials, meanwhile, were considering “serious options” regarding incoming flights from the UK, but have not yet taken action.

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from the UK.

Arriving and departing passengers use the flat escalators at Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The EU governments said they are acting in response to tougher measures imposed on Saturday in London and its surrounding areas by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He immediately put those regions into a new Tier 4 level of restrictions, saying that a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains appears to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England.

“There’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” Johnson said, or that vaccines will be less effective against it.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said yesterday said he was issuing the flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution.”

“There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland,” he said. He hoped to have more clarity by Tuesday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) tweeted late on Saturday that “We’re in close contact with UK officials on the new #COVID19 virus variant.” It promised to update governments and the public as more is learned about this variant.