France joins nations banning travellers from mutant strain-hit Britain

·2-min read

France joined other European countries on Sunday night by closing its borders to travellers from Britain after Boris Johnson's government imposed tough restrictions in southern England to curb a new fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus.

On Saturday, Johnson, ordered a lockdown on more than 16 million people in London and south-eastern England and reversed plans to ease curbs over Christmas.

The British prime minister said the new strain was up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original.

Following Johnson’s move, the Netherlands suspended flights and trains from Britain in an attempt to prevent the spread of the strain.

Belgium's prime minister, Alexander de Croo, told the VRT broadcaster its ban would start at midnight on Sunday and cover incoming Eurostar services via the Channel Tunnel.

He said Belgium was also in touch with France over road passengers from Britain.

After Emmanuel Macron convened a meeting of top ministers on Sunday afternoon, France said it would bar all people coming from Britain for 48 hours from Sunday night. The ban would include freight carriers, whether by road, air, sea or rail.

Earlier on Sunday, Italy's foreign minister, Luigi di Maio, said in a Facebook post that flights would be suspended to and from Britain.

"As a government we have the duty to protect Italians, for this reason, after having notified the British government, with the Ministry of Health we are about to sign the provision to suspend flights with Great Britain," Di Maio said. "Our priority is to protect Italy and our compatriots."

On Sunday evening, a swath of eastern European nations including Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic joined the group.

Announcing a ban on flights to and from Britain and South Africa, Jens Spahn, Germany's health minister, said the virus mutation had not been identified in his country.

Long haul

On Sunday morning, Matt Hancock, Britain's health minister, said the measures announced on Saturday night by Johnson could stay in place for some time.

"We've got a long way to go to sort this.” Hancock told Sky News.

“Essentially we've got to get that vaccine rolled out to keep people safe. Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it's going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.”

Earlier this month, British health officials gave emergency approval to use the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Elderly care home residents and their carers were put top of the lost followed by those aged 80 and over and frontline health and care staff.

But that surge of optimism has been dampened on the eve of the Christmas holidays.

More than 67,000 people have died from the coronavirus in Britain - Europe’s second highest death toll after Italy.