On December 20th, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium, and almost every other European country halted flights from and to the United Kingdom.
There is an European Union meeting for December 21st, where a more uniform response will be agreed upon.
The reason? A new strain of COVID-19 was detected in patients in Great Britain.
The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on December 19th introduced a new tier four level of restrictions for those areas, scrapping a planned relaxation of rules over the Christmas period for millions of people.
Research showed 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.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new strain “was out of control. We have got to get it under control”, admitting that this was “an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year”.
France suspended all travel links, including freight lorries, with the UK for 48 hours from midnight on December 20th.
In response to France’s ban, Eurotunnel said it would suspend access to its Folkestone terminal from 22:00 GMT for traffic heading to Calais. People booked to travel on Monday can get a refund. Trains will still run from Calais to Folkestone.
In Ireland, which has significant passenger traffic with the UK at this time of year, the government announced that flights arriving from England, Wales and Scotland would be banned for 48 hours at least from midnight, and “in the interests of public health, people in Britain, regardless of nationality, should not travel to Ireland, by air or sea”.
In Germany, an order from the ministry of transport said planes from the UK would not be allowed to land after midnight on December 20th, although cargo would be an exception. Health Minister Jens Spahn said the UK variant had not yet been detected in Germany.
Belgium, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Turkey and Switzerland also introduced travel bans.
This strain is not something entirely new. It was first detected back in September.
In November it made up around a quarter of cases in London. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December.
Three things are coming together that mean it is attracting attention:
- It is rapidly replacing other versions of the virus
- It has mutations that affect part of the virus likely to be important
- Some of those mutations have already been shown in the lab to increase the ability of the virus to infect cells
On December 21st, the UK also recorded 35,928 COVID infections, which is the highest ever since it started recording the number.
The new variant, which sent the UK into a sort of quarantine imposed by other countries not seen since the movie 28 Days Later, is called VUI-202012/01 (the first Variant Under Investigation in December 2020), is thought to have first occurred in mid-September in the country’s southeast, in the capital London or the county of Kent.
Thankfully, the virus isn’t shown to turn people into ravenous zombies no more than Black Friday does, so that should certainly be a positive in the given situation.
Susan Hopkins of Public Health England said the agency notified the government on December 18th when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain. The UK submitted its findings to the World Health Organization the same day.
Johnson hoped to allow small-scale festivities for Christmas, but due to this new COVID-19 strain and the lockdown, it is likely that it is largely canceled this year, Santa better wear a mask.
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