In this file photo taken on June 29, 2020, the ferry Armorique leaves the port of Roscoff in western France. - France will halt all travel from Britain for 48 hours from midnight on December 20, 2020, including journeys 'related to goods transport by road, air, sea or rail,' the prime minister's office said earlier in the day, after a new fast-spreading strain of the Covid-19 appeared in the UK. Photo: AFP/Fred Tanneau

Countries worldwide banned arrivals from the UK on Sunday over a new highly infectious coronavirus strain Britain said was “out of control,” as the WHO called for stronger containment measures.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was to chair the COBR emergencies committee on Monday, his office said, after a slew of nations from Turkey to Canada blocked arrivals from Britain by air.

Crucial transit country France moved to block people and goods crossing the Channel, while the Netherlands said passengers arriving by ferry would be denied entry.

The emergency committee would “discuss the situation regarding international travel, in particular the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK,” a spokesman said.

The ban on all but unaccompanied freight crossing to France comes as companies scramble to shift merchandise with days to go until Britain finally quits European Union trade structures in the wake of Brexit.

Late Sunday, Britain’s critical south coast port at Dover said it was closing to all accompanied freight and passengers due to the French border restrictions “until further notice.”

Alarm bells were ringing across Europe – which last week became the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic broke out a year ago – as the new, even more infectious, strain of the virus appeared to be raging in parts of Britain. 

A WHO spokeswoman said that “across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.”

A German government source said restrictions on air travel from Britain could be adopted by the entire 27-member EU and that countries were also discussing a joint response over sea, road and rail links.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel held a conference call on Sunday about the matter, Macron’s office said.

Later Sunday, bans on flights from Britain were being implemented in the Americas, including by Canada, Chile and Argentina.

US officials, however, signalled they were holding off on the move for now.

Despite growing concerns about the new strain, EU experts believe it will not impact the effectiveness of existing vaccines, Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said.

The assessment was shared by Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

UK U-turn

Johnson said the infectiousness of the new strain had forced him into locking down much of England over the Christmas period. 

“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News after Johnson abandoned plans to ease containment measures over the festive season. 

Scientists first discovered the new variant – which they believe is 70% more transmissible – in a patient in September. And Public Health England notified the government on Friday when modeling revealed its full seriousness.

Europe is expected to start a massive vaccination campaign after Christmas following the United States and Britain, which have begun giving jabs with an approved Pfizer-BioNTech shot, one of several leading candidates.

AFP