London: A number of European countries have started to ban flights to and from the UK following the emergence of a highly infectious mutant strain of the novel coronavirus.
The development has led to chaos and confusion among people who were planning to spend the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays with families and friends on either side of the English Channel, reports Xinhua news agency.
The Covid-19 mutant strain has effectively plunged London and other parts of the UK into the new Tier Four restrictions over Christmas, the London-based Evening Standard newspaper said in a report on Sunday.
The Netherlands became the first major European country to announce a ban on flights, followed by Belgium which has also halted UK-bound trains using the Channel Tunnel.
Austria and Italy also followed suit.
The list was expected to quickly grow with France and Germany also mulling to ground flights to and from the UK.
Britain’s neighbour Ireland is expected to restrict flights and ferries.
Eurostar announced it was cancelling trains between London, Brussels and Amsterdam from Monday, but the train operator said on Sunday that trains were continuing to operate on the London-Paris route.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon effectively closed the border with England, announcing people could not enter or leave Scotland.
Police Scotland said it had doubled the number of officers stationed on the English border.
The latest development followed a Downing Street virtual press conference on December 19 during which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of the mutant virus strain which has quickly spread across London and the southeast of England.
The announcement of a new Tier Four restriction for London provoked a race to major rail terminals in London with thousands of people fleeing the UK capital to escape a lockdown over Christmas.
Johnson said that the previous plan to allow up to three households to meet during five days around Christmas will have to be scrapped.
People should not to travel into a Tier Four area, though support bubbles remain unaffected as do the exemptions for separated parents and their children.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday criticised people who fled London before the new Tier four lockdown came into force “totally irresponsible”, the Evening Standard newspaper reported.
For those in Tiers One, Two and Three, rules allowing up to three households to meet will now be limited to Christmas Day only, while in Tier Four, people should not mix with anyone outside their own household, apart from support bubbles.
According to Johnson, the newly identified strain of the virus may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.
Hancock said on Sunday that the new variant was “out of control” in Britain, urging Britons to behave as if they already have the virus, especially in areas under the new Tier Fours restrictions.
The government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has said the new variant was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent.
By December, the new variant had become the “dominant variant” in London, said Vallance.
By the week ending December 9, the new variant accounted for 62 per cent in London, 59 perc ent in eastern England, and 43 per cent in the South East, according to Vallance.
The UK has so far reported a total of 2,046,161 coronavirus cases since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year, while the death toll stood at 67,503.