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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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New Strain

Eamon Ryan says Ireland will work with UK 'on what comes next' after 48-hour suspension of transport

The Green Party leader also said increased restrictions will come into effect in Ireland “sooner than was originally planned”.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 21st 2020, 9:10 AM

FLIGHTS AND PASSENGER ferries from Britain to Ireland are suspended for two days in an effort to stop the spread of a new coronavirus strain to Ireland.

The restrictions came into effect at midnight and will remain in place for an initial period of 48 hours before being reviewed.

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan yesterday confirmed that flights will not be coming from Britain and only ferries carrying haulage will be permitted.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Ryan said there is no evidence that the new strain of the virus is in Ireland but “our labs are now checking every positive case to see, to track and find it if there is”. 

Ryan said the initial 48-hour suspension was chosen because the government thinks “it’s appropriate to assess firstly how it’s working, work with our other European colleagues and with the UK government, to work out what comes next”.

“It has to be on the basis of science and good medical evidence of what’s needed, I’m confident we will we will be able to do that.

“We’ve a meeting with our European colleagues today and also internally in government and cabinet is meeting tomorrow to assess all the information that’s going to come to us.”

Ryan also said increased Covid-19 restrictions will likely come into effect in Ireland “sooner than was originally planned”, possibly before the end of the month, after an increase in cases here.

Freight ban 

Up to 250 Irish lorries are stuck in England after France banned road freight from Britain due to the new coronavirus strain.

The president of the Irish Road Haulage Association earlier told Morning Ireland that no truck driver should leave Ireland unless they have a confirmed booking to travel directly to the continent.

Ryan said those truck drivers left Ireland before the ban was implemented by France. The minister said they will have to come back via different routes.

“We’re working with haulage companies and their representative groups to see what approach can be taken.”

Countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark and Bulgaria also announced restrictions on UK travel.

Italian authorities also announced the mutant strain had been detected in a traveller who recently returned to the country from the UK.

With France suspending all traffic from the UK for 48 hours, it raised fears that trade flows could be severely disrupted while passengers across Europe could be left stranded in the final run-up to Christmas.

Crisis talks in UK 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with ministers after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK and countries around the world ended flights amid fears over the new mutant coronavirus strain.

Johnson will chair a meeting of the government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee today amid warnings of “significant disruption” around the Channel ports in Kent.

Hauliers were urged to stay away from the area amid warnings of potential problems as the end of the Brexit transition period looms on 31 December.

Kent Police said they were implementing Operation Stack in a bid to ease potential congestion, while the Department for Transport said Manston Airport was also being prepared as another contingency measure against the anticipated level of disruption.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister will chair a Cobra meeting tomorrow to discuss the situation regarding international travel, in particular the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK.

“Further meetings are happening this evening and tomorrow morning to ensure robust plans are in place.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged people including hauliers to stay away from the area around the Channel ports.

“We expect significant disruption in the area. My department is urgently working with Highways England and Kent Council on contingency measures to minimise traffic disruption in the area,” he said.

Problems for retailers

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned the closure of France to UK traffic would create “difficulties” for UK imports and exports in the busy Christmas period.

Andrew Opie, the BRC’s director of food and sustainability, said any “prolonged” disruption would be a problem in the run-up to the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

“While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without a guarantee they can return to the EU in a timely manner,” he said.

“This is a key supply route for fresh produce at this time of year.

“We urge the UK government and the EU to find a pragmatic solution to this as soon as possible, to prevent disruption for consumers.

“Retailers have stocked up on goods ahead of Christmas which should prevent immediate problems.

“However, any prolonged closure of the French border would be a problem as the UK enters the final weeks before the transition ends on December 31.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “imperative” the UK government sought an extension to the Brexit transition period.

“The new Covid strain – and the various implications of it – means we face a profoundly serious situation, and it demands our 100% attention,” she said.

“It would be unconscionable to compound it with Brexit.”

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, announced it was calling emergency talks today to coordinate the response of the bloc’s 27 member states.

Contains reporting from Press Association

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