Coronavirus: EU urges countries to lift UK travel bans


European Union ambassadors are meeting to try to find a common policy on links to the UK, after dozens of countries suspended travel amid alarm over a new coronavirus variant.

They will consider a recommendation from the European Commission to lift restrictions.

But EU member states are free to set their own rules on border controls and may continue with their own policies.

France meanwhile announced a limited resumption of travel from the UK.

At the weekend, the country closed its borders to passengers and freight from the UK, causing disruption at the southern British port of Dover, an important gateway for goods entering and leaving.

Thousands of lorries have become stuck, prompting warnings of shortages over Christmas.

Almost all the EU’s 27 member states are currently blocking travellers from the UK.

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, recommended its members allow people to travel to their country of residence providing they take a Covid-19 test or self-isolate. But it said non-essential travel should be discouraged.

It also said transport staff in the EU, such as lorry drivers, should be exempt from travel restrictions and mandatory testing.

On the UK, it said that should lorry drivers require Covid-19 tests to leave the UK for France and other EU countries, it “should not lead to transport disruptions”.

“Cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted,” the commission added,

EU ambassadors are considering adopting the rules but despite this countries are likely to continue with their own policies, the BBC’s Gavin Lee reports from Brussels.

What’s the situation between France and the UK?

The French prime minister’s office said that French nationals and EU citizens would be able to return to France as long as they had negative Covid-19 tests that were less than 72 hours old.

The announcement paves the way for planes and trains to begin departures on Wednesday but does little for the disruption seen in southern England.

Both France and the UK said details would follow on arrangements for hauliers.

“Good progress today and agreement with the French Government on borders,” British transport minister Grant Shapps tweeted.

“We will provide an update on hauliers later this evening [Tuesday], but hauliers must still NOT travel to Kent this evening.”

Lorry drivers face the prospect of a third night sleeping in their cabs outside Dover on the M20 motorway, which has been shut since Sunday night. More than 3,000 lorries are stuck in Kent in south-east England.

Meanwhile, Japanese car giant Toyota said it had suspended production in two factories in the UK and one in France. It blamed “shortages of parts due to transport delays and the uncertain nature of the duration of the border closures”.

Who is banning UK travel?
More than 50 countries around the world from India, to Iran, to Canada have suspended flights from the UK.

The US already has restrictions in place that prevent most non-US citizens who have been in the UK and some other countries for the last 14 days from entering. It is yet to follow suit with a ban on all travellers from the UK, but two airlines – British Airways and Delta – will only allow passengers who test negative for the coronavirus to fly to New York’s John F Kennedy airport.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman have shut their borders completely to international passengers.

Sweden banned foreign travellers from Denmark overnight into Tuesday after cases were discovered there. The decision alarmed Danes – especially those on the island of Bornholm, which relies on a fast ferry link with Ystad in Sweden. There are fears that many will struggle to get to or from Bornholm in time for Christmas, Danish media report.

Along with Denmark, the new strain has also been detected in Australia, Italy and the Netherlands.

As the list of countries imposing travel restrictions on the UK grew, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Europe director, Hans Kluge, said member states would convene to discuss strategies and limit travel, while maintaining trade.

The new strain is more transmissible but is not more deadly or resistant to vaccines, experts say.

Some experts believe the new strain has already spread beyond where it has been reported, crediting the UK’s use of genomic surveillance for detecting it.

“I think we will find in the coming days that a lot of other countries will find it,” Marc Van Ranst, a virologist from the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium, told broadcaster VRT.

In another development, travellers from South Africa are also facing bars from some countries after another new variant of the virus was discovered that is unrelated to the one found in the UK.


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