LONDON: The European Union recommended Tuesday that all 27 member countries should discourage all non-essential travel to and from the United Kingdom until further notice.
With EU countries imposing ad-hoc restrictions on UK travel following the emergence of a new coronavirus variant, the European Commission urged them to take a coordinated approach, but not prevent people in the UK or Europe from returning to their homes.
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said “member states should take coordinated action to discourage nonessential travel between the UK and the EU. At the same time, blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes.”
The EU’s executive arm said people returning to their home countries or main place of residence should be able to do so provided they produce a negative test or quarantine themselves.
Transport workers should be exempt from any travel ban when they are traveling across a border to and from a vessel, vehicle, or aircraft. Essential medical staff should be able to move freely without quarantine provided that they have tested negative within 72 hours of travel.
Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict lockdown measures in London and neighboring areas amid mounting concerns over the new variant to the virus, which early indications show might be 70per cent more transmissible.
As a result, Johnson scrapped a planned relaxation of rules over Christmastime for millions of people and banned indoor mixing of households. Only essential travel will be permitted.
Amid questions about whether vaccines being rolled out now would work against the new strain, the chief executive of BioNTech - the German pharmaceutical company behind one of those shots - said he was confident it would be effective, but further studies are need to be completely sure.
Ugur Sahin said Tuesday that “we don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant” but because the proteins on the variant are 99per cent the same as the prevailing strains BioNTech has “scientific confidence” in the vaccine.
There are mounting concerns that the whole of the UK will be put into a national lockdown after Christmas as new infections soar, including in Wales where 90 soldiers from the British Army will be re-enlisted to drive vehicles from Wednesday to support health teams responding to emergency calls.
The British government's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, warned Monday that measures "may need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced.” For many, that was code for another national lockdown.
While the new variant is being assessed, countries were trying to limit contact with Britain, even though there is evidence of the strain elsewhere already.
In Switzerland, for example, authorities are trying to track an estimated 10,000 people who have arrived by plane from Britain since Dec 14 - and has ordered them to quarantine for 10 days.
Switzerland was one of the 40-odd countries to ban flights from the UK over concerns about the new variant.
The quarantine order is likely to affect thousands of Brits who may have already headed to Swiss ski resorts. Unlike many of its neighbours, Switzerland has left most of its slopes open, attracting enthusiasts from around Europe.
The virus is blamed for 1.7 million deaths worldwide, including about 68,000 in Britain, the second-highest death toll in Europe, behind Italy’s 69,000.
The chaos at the border comes at a time of huge uncertainty for Britain, less than two weeks before it completes its exit from the EU and frees itself from the bloc’s rules. Talks on a post-Brexit trade relationship between the two sides are deadlocked.