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Netherlands, Belgium, Italy suspend UK arrivals over Covid-19 mutation

The Netherlands and Italy will ban flights carrying passengers from the United Kingdom, and Belgium is suspending flight and train arrivals, after Britain detected a new coronavirus strain.

Londoners flock to trains and cars in effort to flee the city ahead of new rules
Londoners flock to trains and cars in effort to flee the city ahead of new rules (Picture by Sky News)

The Netherlands’ ban, from 6am (5am GMT) yesterday until January 1, came hours after Britain announced a stay at home order for part of the country to slow the new variant.

“An infectious mutation of the Covid-19 virus is circulating in the United Kingdom. It is said to spread more easily and faster and is more difficult to detect,” the Dutch health ministry said in a statement.

The Dutch public health body, the RIVM, therefore “recommends that any introduction of this virus strain from the United Kingdom be limited as much as possible by limiting and/or controlling passenger movements”.

Belgium also announced that it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight (11pm GMT) yesterday.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television channel VRT the ban would be in place for at least 24 hours.

Following the example of the Netherlands and Belgium, Italy’s foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said in a Facebook post that Italy will suspend flights to and from the UK. “Our priority is to protect Italy and our compatriots,” he wrote.

France also said it was considering suspending flights and trains from Britain. Germany said it might ban flights from Britain and South Africa to prevent the spread of the new, more infectious coronavirus strain circulating in both countries, a source close to the German health ministry told AFP yesterday.

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The World Health Organisation has called on its members to strengthen measures against the coronavirus.

“Across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches,” a spokeswoman for WHO Europe said.

The Dutch health ministry said yesterday that a “case study in the Netherlands at the beginning of December revealed a virus with the variant described in the United Kingdom”.

Experts were looking at how the infection happened and whether there were related cases.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet had now taken the “precautionary decision” to ban flights from Britain, the statement said, adding that other forms of transport were still under review.

He urged Dutch citizens not to travel unless strictly necessary.

“Over the next few days, together with other EU member states, [the government] will explore the scope for further limiting the risk of the new strain of the virus being brought over from the UK,” the statement said.

The Netherlands is under a five-week lockdown until mid-January with schools and all non-essential shops closed to slow a surge in the virus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said early data suggests the virus circulating in London and southeast England is up to 70 percent more transmissible.

Johnson also said London and southeast England, which are currently in the highest level of a three-tier system of rules, would now be placed in a new Tier 4 level. France24