More EU Nations Ban Travel From UK, Fearing COVID-19 Variant

December 20, 2020 Updated: December 20, 2020

BERLIN—A growing list of European Union nations moved to ban flights from the UK on Sunday and others were considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from spreading to the continent.

France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on UK travel, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be canceled because of rapidly spreading infections blamed on the new coronavirus variant.

A traveller wearing a face mask
A traveler wearing a face mask checks the flight departures at Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Dec. 18, 2020. (Peter Dejong/AP Photo)

Johnson immediately put those regions into a strict new Tier 4 restriction level, upending Christmas plans for millions.

France banned all travel from the UK for 48 hours from midnight Sunday, the prime minister’s office announced. The French statement said that would buy authorities time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat. It specified that “flows of people or transport to the UK are not affected.”

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he was issuing a flight ban for 24 hours starting at midnight “out of precaution.” Belgium also halted train links to Britain, including the Eurostar.

“There are a great many questions about this new mutation,” he said, adding he hoped to have more clarity by Tuesday.

The German government said all flights coming from Britain, except cargo flights, were no longer allowed to land starting midnight Sunday. It didn’t immediately say how long the flight ban would last, but news agency dpa reported it would be in place at least until Dec. 31.

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, also called a special crisis meeting on Monday to coordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.

The Netherlands banned flights from the UK for at least the rest of the year. Ireland issued a 48-hour flight ban. Austria and Italy said they would halt flights from the UK but did not say exactly when that would take place.

Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, said an order signed Sunday blocks flights from Britain and prohibits entry into Italy by anyone who has been in the UK in the last 14 days. The order bans plane travel until Jan. 6.

The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from Britain.

High-speed train operator Eurostar canceled its trains between London, Brussels, and Amsterdam beginning Monday, but kept trains operating on the London-to-Paris route.

Johnson said Saturday that a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70 percent more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England in recent weeks. But he stressed “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines will be less effective against it.

Beyond Europe, Israel also said it was banning flights from Britain, Denmark, and South Africa because those were the countries where the mutation is found.

By Kirsten Grieshaber and Sylvia Hui