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Government considering travel restrictions from Britain as European countries ban UK flights

The ban came hours after Britain announced a stay at home order for part of the country to slow the new variant.

LAST UPDATE | 20 Dec 2020

THE GOVERNMENT IS considering imposing additional travel restrictions on movement from the United Kingdom for two days.

It comes after a number of European countries imposed bans on flights arriving from the UK. 

Speaking to RTÉ’s This Week Programme, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said there will be an announcement later today regarding potential travel restrictions from the UK.

He said the government was looking at flights and ferries coming from Britain into Ireland and that the government was giving the matter serious consideration. 

Belgium earlier announced it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight after the UK detected a coronavirus variant suspected to be more infectious.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told Belgian television channel VRT the ban will be in place for at least 24 hours.

Belgium’s travel suspension from the UK would affect flights and the Eurostar train service that runs from London.

Italy has also confirmed it will suspend flights from the UK. 

Earlier, the Dutch Government said it has banned all passenger flights from Britain after finding the first case of the new strain that is circulating in the UK.

The ban, from 6am local time until 1 January, came hours after Britain announced a stay at home order for part of the country to slow the new variant.

“An infectious mutation of the Covid-19 virus is circulating in the United Kingdom. It is said to spread more easily and faster and is more difficult to detect,” the Dutch health ministry said in a statement.

The Dutch public health body, the RIVM, therefore “recommends that any introduction of this virus strain from the United Kingdom be limited as much as possible by limiting and/or controlling passenger movements.”

The health ministry added that a “case study in the Netherlands at the beginning of December revealed a virus with the variant described in the United Kingdom.”

Experts were looking at how the infection happened and whether there were related cases.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s cabinet had now taken the “precautionary decision” to ban flights from Britain, the statement said, adding that other forms of transport were still under review.

He urged Dutch citizens not to travel unless strictly necessary.

“Over the next few days, together with other EU member states, (the government) will explore the scope for further limiting the risk of the new strain of the virus being brought over from the UK,” the statement said.

The Netherlands is under a five-week lockdown until mid-January with schools and all non-essential shops closed to slow a surge in the virus.

Germany is also considering barring flights from the UK and from South Africa, where the variant has also been detected, a health ministry source indicated. 

The moves come after scientists on the UK Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) concluded the mutant strain identified by the Public Health England laboratories at Porton Down was spreading more quickly.

The UK also informed the World Health Organisation of its findings.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, said the new variant, known as VUI 202012/01, was thought to have originated in either London or Kent in September.

By November, it was accounting for 28% of new infections in the region and by early December that had risen to 60%.

“This new variant not only moves fast but it is becoming the dominant variant,” he said.

He said however there was no evidence it causes a more severe illness than the original virus, while the “working assumption ” of scientists was that the vaccines that had been developed should be able to deal with it.

Meanwhile, Dr Cillian de Gascun, a member of NPHET, said earlier this week that based on the available sequence data, this new variant has not been detected in Ireland to date. He said this highlights the importance of surveillance.

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