Flights, Ferries Banned After Discovery of New UK Corona Virus Strain

Almost the entire of Europe has banned flight and ferry traffic with the UK after a new corona virus strain emerged, although virologists say the variant already has a foothold on the continent and isn’t exactly new.


The ban on flights and ferries was initiated after a new corona virus strain was found in the UK. Reportedly, the new strain of the corona virus is more virulent – although not more lethal – than all other strains in existence so far.

It prompted British PM Boris Johnson to “cancel Christmas” and impose a strict lockdown, while most countries on the continent shut down flights and ferry routes to Britain to prevent the strain from getting a foothold in Europe.

Flight and ferry traffic

All of the countries directly neighbouring the UK (Ireland, France, Belgium and the Netherlands) have shut down air traffic connections with the UK.

Ferries are still running, although most ferry companies are only allowed to transport cargo to and from the UK and are barred from taking passengers. Eurostar trains are currently not running through the Channel Tunnel between England and France.

In some cases, essential workers are also exempt from the new restrictions and can still travel to and from the UK.

The Irish Taoiseach office noted: “Ferry crossings between Ireland and Great Britain will continue in order to keep essential supply chains moving. The government direction for people not to travel from Great Britain to Ireland does not extend to essential supply chain workers.”

French PM Jean Castex said: “In view of the new health risk, and pending its assessment, all personal traffic from the United Kingdom to France is suspended from midnight tonight, for 48 hours, and for all means of transport.”

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France banned flights and ferries to the UK for at least 48 hours. ©French Government

Travel ban

Many other European countries, ranging from Greece to Romania to Portugal, also banned flight traffic with the UK.

Although some countries banned transport links to and from the UK for a longer period of time, most countries only imposed bans for today (21st December) and tomorrow (22nd December), after which the new restrictions will be evaluated.

If you have travels planned to or from the UK in the next week(s), you are well advised to check your flight or ferry status, as well as government travel advisories.

Note that the situation is extremely volatile and could easily change in a few days. For all we know, flights might be fully reinstated after the 48-hour initial ban, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation will continue like this for a while longer.

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A British Airways Boeing 747-400. ©Screenshot

Virus spread

Marcel Levi, the Dutch CEO of University College London Hospitals (UCLH) said that he could understand that countries are rather careful when “there is news and you don’t yet know the effects of it”.

He however added that “we should not be under any illusion”. Levi said: “This variant is already in the Netherlands and is circulating there as well. The virus does not adhere to borders and also doesn’t have a passport.”

According to the World Health Organisation, cases of the new corona virus variant have already been identified out of the UK in countries such as The Netherlands, Denmark, Australia and South Africa.

Interestingly, it prompted the Turkish Government to ban flights to and from those countries as well.

According to local media, yet another virus strain is found in South Africa, which is reportedly even more virulent than the one found in the UK.

About the new strain

The appearance of new virus strains is by itself no surprise at all. According to top Belgian virologist Marc van Ranst of the Catholic University of Leuven, the British strain is not even “new” nor something exclusive to the UK as he had already discovered it in Belgium as well.

Van Ranst told Belgian daily ‘Nieuwsblad’: “We saw four cases in our lab in the past few months.”

The Belgian virologist also put the discovery into perspective. Van Ranst added: “Viruses constantly mutate, and when they do they often become more transmissible rather than pathogenic.”

He added that the strict lockdown measures in the UK should rather be seen in the light of a “large increase in the number of cases” rather than the discovery of the new strain.

Van Ranst also said that it is no surprise that so many infections with the new strain are being picked up in the UK. He said: “The UK is just the country where most of those mutations are picked up because they are looking for them a lot. There are countries that hardly or don’t look at all for variants. They just have no idea.”

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Corona testing at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport ©Paliparan

My take

As this is a travel website and not a political commentary blog (and I’m no health or virology expert) I don’t want to delve too much into the topic.

Discussions on COVID-19 are so often highjacked by two extremes. At one side you have the sanctimonious “the end is nigh!” types who overlook the human and economic consequences of restrictive corona measures and chastise you from even leaving your house.

On the other side there are the loonies who think COVID-19 is a giant conspiracy led by Bill Gates and who in turn overlook the actual health hazards of thousands who lost their lives or face long-term chronic illnesses.

As often in politics, I wonder where the middle ground is. You can still be protective and careful while being critical about some government measures. And that’s exactly where I find myself when it comes to the new UK travel ban.

I wonder how much of this is just purely for show and an overreaction, especially given the fact that the new virus strain already seems to have a firm foothold on the continent as virologist Marc van Ranst pointed out.

I highly wonder whether these travel bans will have an actual effect at all when it comes to containing the new strain, although something in me says that the European leaders and PM Johnson actually won’t mind the (unintended or intended?) consequences, as they prefer people to stay home over Christmas instead of seeing them travelling abroad.

Especially on this topic there seems to be a huge difference between the nuanced take of top doctors and virologists, and those of our elected political leaders struggling to keep the pandemic in check. Needless to say, this UK travel ban has massive consequences for thousands of people planning to meet up with their families over Christmas..

Let’s just say we live in err.. interesting times!

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Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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