Boris Johnson is to kick off the week with an emergency Cobra meeting after France banned lorries carrying freight from the UK and countries around the world ended flights amid fears over the new mutant coronavirus strain.
Warnings of “significant disruption” around the Channel ports in Kent have raised fears about the UK food supply and the rollout of the Covid vaccine – but ministers have moved to dispel these.
The French government on Monday announced it would “establish a solid health protocol to ensure that movement from the UK can resume”, though no timeframe was given.
Kent Police said they were implementing Operation Stack – essentially a system for parking heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) on the M20 when the Channel crossings are disrupted – in a bid to ease potential congestion,
And the Department for Transport said Manston Airport was also being prepared as another contingency measure against the anticipated level of disruption.
On Monday morning, Grant Shapps said the public will not notice any disruption in terms of supermarket shortages “for the most part”, saying hauliers were “quite used to anticipating disruption”, and there were variations in supply “all the time”.
Why is this all happening?
A mutant strain of coronavirus sweeping across London and the south east of England has prompted EU nations to start restricting inbound flights from the UK.
On Saturday, Johnson said there was “no evidence” the new variant “causes more severe illness or higher mortality” but “it does appear to be passed on significantly more easily”.
He said the new strain could be up to 70% more transmissible than the old virus variant.
Which European countries have banned flights from the UK?
More than 40 countries including France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands, have all said they will halt flights arriving from the UK.
The Czech Republic has imposed stricter quarantine measures for people arriving from Britain.
Which other countries have implemented travel bans?
India, Russia, Jordan, Hong Kong, Turkey, Israel and Morocco have suspended travel for Britons.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said from midnight Sunday, Canada was putting a 72-hour stop on flights from the UK.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman have closed their borders completely over fears of the mutant strain.
El Salvador is barring entry to anyone who has visited the UK in the preceding 30 days.
Will this affect the rollout of the Covid vaccine?
So far, the only Covid-19 vaccine approved for use in Britain is made by Pfizer in Belgium, and requires sophisticated logistics to transport and store at ultra-cold temperatures.
The Department of Health and Social Care has said if the bans stay in place for longer than 48 hours, there are contingency plans to airlift the Pfizer vaccines from Belgium using military aircraft.
Grant Shapps told Sky News on Monday that the disruption around the Channel ports in Kent “won’t have an impact” on the vaccine supply.
“Most vaccine doesn’t come via what is called ‘Ro-Ro’, roll-on, roll-off, which is what we are talking about here,” he said.
“In other words, it’s not usually accompanied by a driver, by a haulier. It comes on those containers. To put this into context, there are about 6,000 vehicles we would expect, just under in Dover today, probably 4,000 would have gone across from Dover, just under about 2,000 on the Eurotunnel.
“But there is probably something like 32,000 units that would have been the daily total, so the vast majority – including virtually all the vaccine – actually comes via container and there are good supplies in the meantime.
“So this won’t have an impact on the vaccination programme.”
A spokesman for Pfizer UK said robust plans were in place to ensure supplies would not be interrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
“We are continuing to work with the UK government in this process and we are confident of our capability to deliver doses,” he said.
What could this mean for food and goods stocks in the UK?
It is possible that these border restrictions could affect the flow of key goods into the UK.
Andrew Opie, of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The closure of France to UK traffic, including accompanied freight, poses difficulties for UK capacity to import and export key goods during the busy Christmas period.”
He suggested that while goods can still enter the UK from France, it may be that 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.
It is believed that many retailers will have already stocked up on Christmas goods, which should prevent immediate supply problems.
But any prolonged closure of the border with France would present difficulties for businesses, Opie said.
Asked if rapid testing of goods lorry drivers could be a solution, Shapps told the BBC’s Today programme: “We will look at all the various different solutions of which lateral flow testing could be an option. It’s very much less expensive and readily available – we’ve got a lot of tests [...]. So that would be a possibility.”
The transport secretary added that lorry driving was of its nature a solitary profession and therefore less risky for spreading Covid-19. “Having said that [...] they actually don’t see anyone.
“They are probably, in a virus that we know spreads through contact, the least likely people to pick up the virus and that’s why other countries haven’t banned the hauliers because it’s actually a pretty solitary profession, and they’re unlikely to therefore spread the virus around.”
When do the flight bans start and how long do they last?
The Netherlands ban came into force on Sunday morning, with it due to last for at least the rest of the year.
Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo issued a flight ban order for 24 hours starting at midnight on Sunday.
Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza said an order was signed on Sunday blocking flights from Britain and preventing anyone who had been to the UK in the last 14 days from entering Italy. The order bans plane travel until January 6.
Austria and Italy have not specified when their plans to halt flights from the UK would take place.
Germany said it was banning flights from the UK starting at midnight, Berlin time, on Sunday, with the German dpa news agency reporting it would remain in place until at least December 31.
France has banned all travel from the UK for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday.
Bulgaria said it was temporarily ceasing flights to and from the UK from midnight on Sunday.
Finland is due to suspend all passenger flights with the UK for two weeks from Monday.
Poland is also due to halt flights from midnight on Monday, though it is not yet known how long the ban will be in place.
Denmark said all flights from Great Britain would be halted for 48 hours from Monday.
What is the situation with Ireland?
The Irish government said on Sunday that it was imposing a 48-hour ban on flights from Britain to Ireland.
The restrictions come into force at midnight on Sunday.
Is anyone exempt from the bans?
Ireland’s transport minister Eamon Ryan said ferries will continue to operate for freight between Britain and Ireland.
“We need haulage coming in to keep our shelves full but other passengers will be restricted,” he said.
The German government said exemptions from its flight ban include repatriation flights of planes and their crews, postal, freight or empty flights and aircraft carrying medical personnel.
The Bulgarian embassy in London said on its website that Bulgarian citizens and their families, as well as permanent residents in Bulgaria, were able to enter the country subject to a 10-day quarantine if they fly through a different country or enter Bulgaria on land or by sea.
What discussions are taking place between governments?
An EU crisis meeting has been called for Monday to discuss the coordination of the response to coronavirus among the 27 member states.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) regards other countries’ travel restrictions as a matter for their own governments.
It was previously understood to be in touch with international partners and monitoring the situation closely.
But late on Sunday night No 10 revealed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to chair a meeting of the UK government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee on Monday.
Are international train and ferry links running?
Eurostar said it was unable to run trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on Monday or Tuesday.
Trains to London from Paris will continue to operate, with the rail company saying it planned to resume services to and from the UK on Wednesday.
Eurotunnel said access to its UK site prohibited from 10pm after its last train left at 9.34pm.
Dover’s ferry terminal has also closed to “all accompanied traffic leaving the UK” after France moved to shut its border.
Am I allowed to travel abroad from England?
If you are living in one of the newly created Tier 4 areas, which encompasses London and parts of the south east and east of England, you must not travel abroad.
Government guidance states people can only travel internationally if you are “legally permitted to do so, for example, because it is for work”.
Across England people are advised to stay local and avoid travelling outside their area.
For those living in Tier 1, 2, and 3 areas, the guidance advises potential international travellers to “carefully consider whether they must travel abroad”.
It advises them to “follow the rules in their area” and consider the public health advice in the country they plan to visit.
Someone living outside Tier 4 can transit into or through a Tier 4 area to travel abroad if they need to.
People are also warned to check travel advice from the FCDO and what rules are in place at their destination. For many countries the FCDO is advising against “all but essential travel”.
Where else has the new strain been detected?
Cases of Covid-19 involving the new variant observed in Britain have been reported in at least three other countries in Europe – Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a “threat assessment” that while preliminary analysis in the UK suggests the new variant is “significantly more transmissible”, there is no indication that infections are more severe.
It said “timely efforts” to prevent and control the spread of cases of the new variant are needed.