The Dutch government has banned air travel from the UK due to fears over a new, more infectious strain of the coronavirus.
The move comes after health authorities in the Netherlands confirmed at least one case of the same variant that has prompted parts of the UK to return to lockdown rules.
Also, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced it was in “close contact” with the UK about the new mutation of the virus, with them both sharing information and results of analysis about the novel outbreak.
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the UK had told the international healthcare body about the development after modelling showed a rapid spread of the new variant in southeast England.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO technical lead on coronavirus, said earlier this week the strain bore similarities to a variant initially discovered in mink in Europe.
A new report published by the WHO has called for “enhanced” surveillance worldwide in light of the recent developments.
The Dutch health ministry said the case there had been identified at the beginning of December and is being investigated.
Meanwhile, it said “any introduction of this virus strain from the United Kingdom should be limited as much as possible by limiting or controlling passenger movements from the United Kingdom as much as possible”.
The air traffic ban for passengers from the UK began at 6am today and will apply until 1 January at the latest.
The Dutch government said: “The cabinet is closely monitoring the developments of the COVID-19 virus abroad and is investigating the possibilities for additional measures for other modes of transport.
“In the coming days, it will, in close collaboration with other EU member states, look into the possibilities of further restricting imports of the virus from the United Kingdom.”
The new strain of coronavirus – known as VUI-202012/01 – is believed to spread more quickly than the original strain and is thought to be the reason for rapidly-rising infection rates in southeast England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Saturday that the new strain might be “up to 70% more transmissible”.
“While we are fairly certain the variant is transmitted more quickly, there is no evidence to suggest that it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” he said.
“Equally there is no evidence to suggest the vaccine will be any less effective against the new variant.”
Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, said the new variant is thought to have emerged in the UK in mid-September.
By December, it was responsible for more than 60% of infections in London, he said.
Mr Johnson announced that millions of people in London and many parts of the South East will not be allowed to mix with other households at Christmas as they come under a new Tier 4 level of restrictions from Sunday.