International

Covid: Italy, Belgium and Netherlands ban flights from UK over variant

Trains to Belgium have been halted, with France considering similar measures.

A number of European countries have or are considering banning travel from the UK to prevent the spread of a more infectious variant of coronavirus.

Both the Netherlands and Belgium have suspended flights. Trains to Belgium have also been banned.

Italy’s foreign minister has indicated his government plans to ban flights. France and Germany are among others reportedly planning similar action.

The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday introduced a new tier-four level of restrictions, scrapping a planned relaxation of rules over the Christmas period for millions of people.

Top health officials said that there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly, or would react differently to vaccines, but it was proving to be up to 70% more transmissible.

The World Health Organization says the same mutation has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.

Which countries have acted and how?

Within hours of the UK announcement on Saturday, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from the UK from 06:00 (05:00 GMT) on Sunday until 1 January.

Pending “greater clarity” on the situation in the UK, the Dutch government said that further “risk of the new virus strain being introduced to the Netherlands should be minimised as much as possible”.

It also said it would work with other European Union member states in the coming days to “explore the scope for further limiting the risk of the new strain of the virus being brought over from the UK”.

Belgium is suspending flights and train arrivals from the UK from midnight (23:00 GMT) Sunday. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television channel VRT the ban would be in place for at least 24 hours as a “precautionary measure”, adding “we will see later if we need additional measures”.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on his Facebook page that the government was about to sign a measure to suspend flights from the UK.

In Germany, a health ministry official told AFP news agency that the government was also considering banning flights from the UK, and South Africa, where the variant has also been detected.

The official said the German government was monitoring developments in the UK and working at “high pressure” to evaluate the new information and data regarding the new variant.

In France, news channel BFMTV reported that the government was “seriously” considering suspending flights and trains from the UK, and the government was “looking for European co-ordination”.

“A decision will be announced during the day,” the channel said.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González said Spain also wanted a co-ordinated EU decision on the matter.

In Ireland, urgent government talks are being held and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he expected a decision later on Sunday on a new advisory for travel from Britain.

Austria is also planning a ban on flights from the UK, with details currently being worked out, Austrian media reported.