Europe Moves to Isolate U.K. as Mutant Virus Ruins Christmas
The UK plunged into Christmas chaos as police prevented people from boarding jam-packed trains, scrapped vacations abroad and banned travel to Europe after London was locked into an emergency lockdown.
France suspended domestic travel from the UK for 48 hours on Sunday and Germany suspended the arrival of flights from the UK, which is in the middle of delicate Brexit negotiations with its EU partners. These talks are still at a critical stage after the weekend.
In a sudden turn, Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled plans to allow families to see each other during the holiday season when the government warned that a new strain of coronavirus was "out of control". There were panic scenes at train stations in which people defied socially distant rules to leave the capital before the new rules came into effect on Sunday.
Ireland banned flights to mainland Britain at least until Tuesday. Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium have stopped flight, train or ferry connections earlier.
The French Emmanuel Macron, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the President of the European Council Charles Michel and the President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen discussed the health situation in Great Britain and Brexit.
For the UK, it's a double blow that may leave the country isolated from the pandemic that is still wreaking havoc. The exit from the EU has been punctuated by a bad relationship with its neighbors, while in this latest turn, once close partners are closing the shutters.
This will also do more damage to troubled European airlines. According to Eurocontrol, the country was the busiest in the region with more than 2,200 flights on Saturday.
More than 16 million Britons are now forced to stay at home after new restrictions came into effect in London and south east England. The measures ban shuffling households in the capital and the southeast and limit socializing in the rest of England to Christmas Day.
For many Britons trying to see relatives or go on winter vacation, the restrictions are a reminder of the last nationwide lockdown and add to the burden of fighting a virus that is still dangerous even with vaccines introduced into the population will.
This is the most recent U-turn by a government that refuses to limit the movement unless forced to do so. Until Friday, Johnson insisted tight households could mingle over Christmas. There is some unease among its conservative ordinary lawmakers.
A Tory MP, Charles Walker, expressed dismay that the government "pulled the plug" at Christmas at a clearly politically sensitive time. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News host Sophy Ridge this morning that the government had no choice because "this is dead serious".
While London's Heathrow Airport was overcrowded on Sunday morning when dozens of planes took off, a KLM flight to Amsterdam at 11:45 a.m. remained empty, according to a hub spokeswoman. Two later British Airways flights to the Dutch city have been canceled. Most of the other operations at the airport went according to plan.
France will suspend all travel from the UK for 48 hours from midnight, while EU members will coordinate this, Junior Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri on LCI television.
Germany bans inbound flights from Great Britain, Health Minister Jens Spahn told the ARD broadcaster. The Ministry of Transport in Berlin cited an EU directive that could maintain the suspension until December 31.
The bans are very worrying, said the Heathrow spokeswoman. The airport has just had one of its busiest weeks since the UK first lockdown when people caught flights in the run-up to the holiday season, and there are still large numbers of trips going on, she said.
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A spokesman for Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam said planes arriving from London on Sunday were essentially empty. Deutsche Lufthansa AG has canceled crew stopovers in Great Britain and is considering further measures.
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. reviews its flight plan in light of Tier 4 restrictions. Customers on flights that are still planned have the option to rebook. However, as with British Airways, the airline only offers a cash refund when a flight is canceled. EasyJet Plc announced that it is restarting its schedule in the UK.
Eurostar International Ltd., which operates passenger trains through the Channel Tunnel, will cease connections from London to Brussels on Monday. Even before the new curbs, Eurostar had operated a minimum of one train per day in each direction on most routes to enable emergency journeys. Anyone leaving London will be quarantined on their return and potentially restricted at their destination.
In the meantime, the police are stepping up their patrols and focusing on popular spots in the capital.
"Officials across London will pay special attention to groups that have deliberately ignored the rules and endanger communities and lives," the Metropolitan Police said.
(Updates with France and Germany with suspension of flights in the second paragraph.)
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