Peru suspends flights from Europe as coronavirus cases near one million

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LIMA (Reuters) - Peru suspended flights from Europe for two weeks and has put its health and travel authorities on high alert to prevent the entry of a new strain of coronavirus that appeared in the United Kingdom, President Francisco Sagasti said on Monday.

Sagasti said no direct flights from the United Kingdom had entered the country since December 15, when flights from Europe restarted. But health authorities were monitoring passengers from Britain who had entered through connecting flights, he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that a new strain of the coronavirus had led to surging infection numbers, prompting countries worldwide to suspend flights to and from the United Kingdom.

The announcement comes as hard-hit Peru nears one million cases of COVID-19, amid growing concerns over a second wave of the virus following the end-of-year holidays.

Health officials in Peru have prohibited the use of private vehicles on Dec. 24, 25 and 31, as well as on New Year's Day to reduce movement, and have discouraged Peruvians from visiting family over the holidays.

In addition to suspending flights from the United Kingdom, Peru on Monday also prohibited the entry of non-resident foreigners who had been in the UK in the last two weeks. Peruvians or non-residents already in the country who had recently visited the United Kingdom will be required to spend 14 days in isolation.

Coronavirus cases in Peru hit 997,517 on Sunday, with 37,103 deaths from the disease, according to official figures.

Peru has already signed a preliminary agreement with Pfizer to buy 9.9 million doses of its vaccine, and inked a firm deal with the Covax Facility, an alliance led by the World Health Organization, to acquire another 13.2 million doses.

Sagasti's government said last week it did not know when the first doses would be arriving in the Andean nation, nor how many would be included in the first shipment.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Dan Grebler)