A number of European countries have banned travel from the UK in a bid to prevent the spread of a new, more contagious, strain of coronavirus.
Germany, Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands have all placed restrictions on travel from UK, with other countries – including Italy – expected to follow suit.
It was announced on Sunday that night that Boris Johnson would chair a meeting of the government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee on Monday following the news.
The travel bans come the day after Boris Johnson set out drastic new tier 4 restrictions for London and large swathes of east and south-east England amid fears a new variant of Covid-19 is spreading rapidly across the country.
New lockdowns have also been announced for Wales and Scotland over Christmas.
At a press conference on Saturday, the prime minister said the new variant could be “up to 70% more transmissible” than the original variant.
The Irish government announced plans on Sunday night for a 48-hour ban on travel from Britain.
The country’s transport minister Eamon Ryan said that ferries would continue to operate for freight – but that “general travel” would be restricted.
“We have to do this because the UK government themselves has put in place very strict restrictions on movements,” he said.
“This new strain of coronavirus, which they have identified, seems to have a much higher transmission rate.
“On a precautionary basis it’s right for us to follow up on the Dutch, Belgium, Italian and other governments will do the same.
Ryan said the ban would temporarily last 48 hours – but that it was unlikely to be relaxed at the end of the two days.
He said: “It’s not as if after 48 hours there will be a loosening but it’s right to do it on a phased, test basis to restrict traffic now on a precautionary principle and then review it in 48 hours’ time.”
On Sunday, France said it would restrict travel coming from the UK for 48 hours from 11pm GMT, with the new rules applying to air, car, ferry and train travel.
It comes after a long line of passengers formed inside St Pancras station in central London on Sunday as they waited to board one of the afternoon’s sold-out Eurostar trains.
The Eurotunnel tweeted that the last shuttle from the UK to France would be at 9.34pm on Sunday.
From 11pm GMT, flights from the UK to Germany will be prohibited “due to the mutation of the coronavirus in the UK”, the Germany embassy in London said in a statement.
There will be three main exceptions to the ban, which is set to be reviewed on December 31.
Flights with medical personnel “in the interest of public health” will still be able to land, as will postal, freight or empty flights and repatriation flights of aeroplanes and their crews.
Belgian prime minister Alexander de Cross said the country would close its borders to planes and trains coming from the UK from 11pm GMT on Sunday to prevent importing a new strain of the coronavirus, Reuters reported.
The restriction will last for at least 24 hours, he said.
Eurostar tweeted that its trains between London, Brussels and Amsterdam would be cancelled on Monday as a result.
The government of the Netherlands introduced a ban on flights carrying passengers from the UK from 6am on Sunday, with the new restriction set to remain in place until January 1 “at the latest”.
It comes after a case of the new strain was detected in the country.
Who might be next?
Italian politicians have indicated the country is set to lay out its own plans to suspend flights from the UK.
In a Facebook post, foreign minister Luigi di Maio said Italy was “about to sign the provision to suspend flights with Great Britain”, adding that it was the government’s priority to “protect Italy and our compatriots” from the new form of Covid.
How long will Tier 4 restrictions last in England?
Restrictions in the UK are expected to remain for “some time”, health secretary Matt Hancock warned on Sunday, admitting that the new strain of the disease was “out of control”.
He said the country was facing an “enormous challenge” after scientists warned the new variant could be up to 70% more transmissible than the original virus.
“The new variant is out of control and we need to bring it under control,” Hancock told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“We don’t know how long these measures are going to be in place. It may be for some time until we can get the vaccine going.”
But Labour leader Keir Starmer said the PM must apologise to the public for the way the latest coronavirus restrictions had been handled.
“I think the prime minister should apologise,” he told an online press conference. “This is not just one mistake when he has otherwise got things right. It is the same mistake over and over again.
“At the heart of the problem here is a prime minister who simply doesn’t want to be unpopular and therefore won’t take the tough decisions that are necessary, until he is forced into them at the 11th hour.
“We can’t go on like that. I think that it is very important that the prime minister does apologise to people for his handling of this episode of the pandemic.”