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Mutant Covid-19 strain: Many European nations halt UK flights

London: A number of European countries have started to ban flights to and fro from the UK following the emergence of a highly infectious mutant strain of the novel coronavirus.

The development has led to chaos and confusion among people who were planning to spend the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays with families and friends on either side of the English Channel, media reports said.

The Covid-19 mutant strain has effectively plunged London and other parts of the UK into the new Tier Four restrictions over Christmas, the London-based Evening Standard newspaper said in a report.

The Netherlands became the first major European country to announce a ban on flights, followed by Belgium which has also halted UK-bound trains using the Channel Tunnel.

Austria and Italy also followed suit.

The list was expected to quickly grow with France and Germany also mulling to ground flights to and from the UK.

Britain’s neighbor Ireland is expected to restrict flights and ferries.

Eurostar announced it was cancelling trains between London, Brussels and Amsterdam from Dec 21, but the train operator said that trains were continuing to operate on the London-Paris route.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon effectively closed the border with England, announcing people could not enter or leave Scotland.

Police Scotland said it had doubled the number of officers stationed on the English border.

The latest development followed a Downing Street virtual press conference on December 19 during which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of the mutant virus strain which has quickly spread across London and the southeast of England.

The announcement of a new Tier Four restriction for London provoked a race to major rail terminals in London with thousands of people fleeing the UK capital to escape a lockdown over Christmas.

According to Johnson, the newly identified strain of the virus may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new variant was “out of control” in Britain, urging Britons to behave as if they already have the virus, especially in areas under the new Tier Fours restrictions.

The UK has so far reported a total of 2,046,161 coronavirus cases since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year, while the death toll stood at 67,503.

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No exact date of resuming int’l flights from Russia: Kremlin

Moscow: Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that there was no exact date of resuming flights between Russia and other countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the issue was on the agenda.

“This issue (on resuming flights) is on the agenda. There are no exact dates yet,” TASS News Agency quoted Peskov as saying to the media on Monday, adding that it was up to the government to decide on this matter.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin had earlier ordered to draw up proposals on a possible date of resuming flights.

An airline source told TASS that the Federal Air Transport Agency in the near future planned to send to the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing its proposals on resuming flights from Russia to 15 countries since July 15.

According to the source, there were plans to open flights to “nearly all countries” for business aviation.

The list of countries will be drawn up jointly by the Federal Air Transport Agency and the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing.

In March, Russia fully suspended flights with other countries amid the pandemic, except for evacuation, cargo and mail flights.

Amid the lockdown introduced in most Russian regions, in April passenger traffic of Russian airlines dropped 91.8 per cent to slightly more than 770,000 passengers.

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