By Alex Macheras
In an unprecedented development during this final chapter of 2020, over 60 countries from across 5 continents have cut all air travel ties with the UK or banned UK travellers amid immense global concern of a new Covid-19 strain “spreading out of control” in Britain.
Scientists say the new strain is likely more infectious, possibly up to 70% faster in terms of transmission. Jeremy Farrar, a British medical researcher and director of the Wellcome Trust, said that its existence is "worrying and a real cause for concern. Research is ongoing to understand more but acting urgently now is critical. There is no part of the UK and globally that should not be concerned”.
While this new strain of Covid-19 has been found to be in multiple countries, including South Africa and The Netherlands, it’s UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s “this new strain is out of control here” comments that has led to 60 countries from 5 continents banning air travel to/from Britain in a bid to keep the new strain out.
In fact, entire countries are shutting down (such as Kuwait, Oman) due to global concern of new Covid-19 strain in the UK.
The overwhelming majority of the 60 countries have cut all air travel and transport ties with Britain, including India, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Kuwait, Iraq, Hungary, Moldova, Jordan, The Philippines, Belgium, Denmark, Oman, Switzerland, Argentina, Colombia and South Korea, while other countries have banned any travellers who have been in the UK in the last 14 days. Singapore has decided to go as far as to banning any UK traveller from transiting via its Changi Airport hub. Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru all banned flights from the UK.
The last time the world witnessed anything like this is when countries started to cut air travel ties with China at the beginning of this pandemic.
Qatar says arrivals into Doha on flights from the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands and South Africa must have a reservation in an exclusive quarantine hotel. Passengers will not be permitted to board the aircraft without a UK, DK, NL or ZA exclusive quarantine hotel voucher if your booking was made on or after December 23, 2020. Pre-approved QID resident permit holders are able to apply to travel to Qatar but will need to obtain approval to enter Qatar by applying through the Qatar Portal. Applications for a QID return visa are now open.
The new variant was first detected in September. In November, it made up around a quarter of cases in London. This reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December.
Three things are coming together that mean it is attracting attention: It is rapidly replacing other versions of the virus, it has mutations that affect part of the virus likely to be important, and some of those mutations have already been shown in the lab to increase the ability of the virus to infect cells.
The World Health Organisation is working to understand the extent to which the virus may spread more easily, along with other human behavioural factors that may be driving transmission, Maria van Kerkhove, the body’s technical lead on Covid-19, told the BBC on Sunday. She said that current information suggests that the new variant doesn’t have any impact on the vaccines being rolled out.
Emanuel Macron was the first EU leader to ban travellers from the UK on Sunday, putting in place a 48-hour embargo on all travels. This included freight lorries at Dover, causing disruption to cross-Channel trade – including fresh food supplies.
Other EU countries quickly halted UK flights, as data suggested the new variant could be up to 70% more infectious. Dozens of countries around the world followed Europe's lead – but the US is allowing British visitors with a negative Covid-19 test.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had demanded that flights from the UK be halted – but had his request rejected by the federal government, however British Airways and Delta voluntarily agreed that passengers on their flights would be tested prior to departure.
A British Airways spokesman said: “We have agreed to pre-departure testing for passengers on flights from the UK to New York from December 22 in line with the request. We continue to work closely with local health authorities around the world.”
Meanwhile, the growing list of 60 countries (and counting) cutting air travel ties with the UK shows no sign of slowing down, all before – what is usually – a busy holiday period.
*The author is an aviation analyst.
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