More than 40 countries have banned arrivals from the UK because of concerns at the spread of a new variant of coronavirus.
Several European states have blocked flights from the UK, including: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain and Switzerland. Flights from the UK have been blocked by Canada, Hong Kong and India. However, flights to the USA are continuing.
Airports have warned passengers that if they had no ticket or were heading for a country with an active UK ban in place, they will not be able to check in and so should stay at home.
The fact that France has shut its border means no lorries or ferries will be able to sail from the port of Dover. Europe-bound train services via the Channel Tunnel have halted.
European Union member states are currently meeting in Brussels to discuss a co-ordinated response. French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said: “In the next few hours, at European level, we’re going to establish a solid health protocol to ensure that movement from the UK can resume. Our priority: to protect our nationals and our fellow citizens.”
Queues of trucks are forming in Kent as a result of the French government’s decision to ban air, sea and rail travel for a 48-hour period. While the decision affects lorries but unaccompanied freight, such as containers or lorry trailers on their own, can still be transported.
Kent Police has put Operation Stack into force on the M20 towards Dover to queue lorries caught up in the disruption. The coast-bound carriageway of the motorway has been shut between Junctions 8 and 11 as a contingency measure, the force said.
Manston Airport in Kent is also being readied to take up to 4,000 lorries to ease congestion in the county, the Department for Transport said. Due to the expected level of disruption the DfT is advising hauliers to avoid travel to Kent ports until further notice.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the situation in Kent was not too disrupted. “Immediately as soon as the French said, perhaps slightly surprisingly, that they would stop hauliers rather than just passengers, we were in touch with a group known as the Kent Resilience Forum,” Shapps told Sky News on Monday morning. They are well used to planning for exactly these kind of circumstances.”
Shapps said that about 20% of the overall 32,000 units of freight shipped today were affected by the restrictions. “To put this into context, there are about 6,000 vehicles we would expect, just under in Dover today, probably I’d say 4,000 would have gone across from Dover, just under 2,000 on the Eurotunnel,” he said.
“But there’s probably something like 32,000 units that would have been the daily total so the vast majority including virtually all the vaccine actually comes via container.”
The Transport Secretary said that COVID-19 vaccine supplies, which come from Belgium, would not be affected by travel bans, as they come to the UK via unaccompanied containers. However, it is understood that the RAF is being readied to fly in the vaccine if needed.
The cross-channel traffic situation wad addressed by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a meeting of COBRA, the UK Government's emergency committee.
Eurostar has cancelled all its services from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on Monday and Tuesday. Services will only operate from Paris to London on those days. Eurotunnel also suspended passenger and freight traffic to France from its Folkestone terminal from 10pm on Sunday, but travel continues in the opposite direction. Eurostar said it planned to resume all train services to and from the UK on Wednesday. Eurotunnel said services to France would resume on Tuesday at the earliest.
The new variant of COVID-19 detected in the UK is known as VUI2020/01. It is described as being up to 70% more transmissible. However, there is no evidence that it is more deadly and there is also no indication that it reacts differently to vaccines that have been developed to tackle COVID-19.
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