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Aircraft lining up for departure out of London Heathrow Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

Multiple European Countries Ban U.K. Flights Following Discovery of New COVID-19 Strain

Countries across Europe have made the decision to ban all flights arriving from the U.K. after the British government announced a new strain of the coronavirus had been discovered and had begun to spread within the country.

Speaking to the country Saturday night, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a sharp rise in new coronavirus cases across the four nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which appears to have been caused by a new strain of the coronavirus. Since then, European countries have expressed major concern that the new strain could be transported into their respective countries.

Johnson said that “there is no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness” or that the vaccines would be less effective against it. Last week the U.K. informed the World Health Organization that the new strain was the most likely cause for the rise in cases, especially in London, which has seen case counts rise by almost 60%.

Despite the reassurances from Britain’s prime minister, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy have all imposed a ban on flights entering their countries from the U.K, with many more considering what action to take.

Belgium will ban flights and rail connections from the U.K. for at least 24 hours from midnight Sunday, a ban that could be extended if necessary. The Dutch government announced its ban will be in effect from 6 a.m. on Dec. 20 until Jan. 1. Italy has set a ban on all flights but has not said how long it will be enforced. Germany has also put a ban on all flights from 12 a.m. Sunday until at least Dec. 31, which could be extended after the U.K. changes to a non-European Union member on Jan. 1.

France, which has a road border with the U.K. through the English Channel, has suspended all travel links with the U.K. for 48 hours from midnight Sunday. Austria has also set out a ban but not indicated how long it will last. Bulgaria has initially followed the same procedure as Germany, keeping a flight ban enforced until at least Dec. 31.

The EU itself will convene a meeting between its member states to work out a coordinated response to the new strain.

Internal Travel Restrictions Come Into Effect

The U.K. will face a less than happy New Year as Johnson announced new COVID-19 restrictions during his press conference Saturday. London and the southeast of England were placed in a Tier 4 lockdown, effective Sunday morning, affecting the Christmas plans of over 11 million people. The immediate introduction of the new rules is the result of the detection of a new strain of the virus that spreads faster than the current strain. This will mean that those in the Tier 4 zones in England are restricted from traveling outside their region either within the U.K. or overseas. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for administering their own restrictions.

London and several other regions within the U.K. were already under Tier 3 restrictions that affected travel resulting in Tui canceling all flights from Luton airport between Dec. 20 and 30. Tui is the U.K.’s largest holiday company and will offer passengers a full refund or the option to rebook their holidays to popular destinations still remaining on the U.K. government’s travel corridor list such as the Canary Islands.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have advised that passengers will be able to receive a voucher if they opt not to travel but will only provide the option of a refund if the airlines cancel the flight. Bloomberg reports that this strategy has been under investigation by the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority (C.M.A.) as a possible breach of consumer rights. The C.M.A. probe is seeking to clarify whether passengers are entitled to the option of a refund from an airline if government guidance prevents them from traveling but flights are not canceled. Unlike the initial English tier system where travel restrictions were cited as “guidance,” the new Tier 4 rules indicate that the travel restrictions are legal requirements.

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