Countries Ban Travel From U.K. in Race to Block New Covid-19 Strain

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Countries Ban Travel From U.K. in Race to Block New Covid-19 Strain

Travelers waiting at London’s St. Pancras International train station on Sunday

Photo: niklas halle’n/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

BRUSSELS—Countries across Europe and beyond raced Sunday to stem a more-infectious strain of Covid-19 by banning travel from the U.K., following a British announcement Saturday that it is imposing fresh lockdowns.

Germany, Spain, Italy and Israel on Sunday were preparing to join the Netherlands and Belgium, which hours earlier had banned passenger air travel from the U.K., while other countries considered similar moves in an effort to prevent a worsening of the pandemic before Christmas.

The travel restrictions, following the identification of the new strain earlier this week, mark fresh setbacks in efforts to combat the deadly coronavirus despite the beginning of vaccinations over recent days. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said Sunday that a few cases of the new strain had also been reported in Denmark, the Netherlands and possibly in Belgium.

The Netherlands moved first, banning all passenger flights from the U.K. until Jan. 1. Belgium quickly followed, banning flights and rail arrivals of the Eurostar train line, beginning midnight Sunday, initially for 24 hours.

The German government later Sunday said it would restrict travel to and from the U.K. and South Africa, where the new strain has also been found. Berlin said it would coordinate specific regulations with other EU countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron convened a special council to address the situation and several other governments from Spain to Latvia said they were considering similar moves.

A NEW COVID-19 STRAIN

European Union officials were working to coordinate measures. The office of European Council President Charles Michel, who coordinates the EU’s 27 governments, convened Sunday a video call among EU and national officials, an EU official said. Germany, which holds the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, called an urgent meeting of governments for Monday morning to follow up on Sunday’s videoconference.

Outside the EU, Israel barred travelers from the U.K., Denmark and South Africa, and said it could add more countries to that list. Israelis may return from those countries but must quarantine in a hotel, the government said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press conference Saturday that scientists believe the new variant could be as much as 70% more transmissible than more established strains. He said there is no evidence it is any more deadly or resistant to vaccines, despite its faster transmission from person to person.

In response to the discovery, Mr. Johnson imposed a fresh lockdown on London and nearby areas of southeastern and eastern England. The new measures include a ban on households mixing at Christmas.

The new strain of the virus accounted for 62% of the new cases identified in London in the week through Wednesday. The Dutch government said Sunday it had also discovered through examination of a Covid-19 case from early this month that the strain was present in the Netherlands.

“Following the latest reports from the U.K., this case is being investigated further,” a Dutch government statement said.

The U.K. reported its discovery of the new strain Monday and has already notified the World Health Organization.

Later in the afternoon, Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced he had signed an ordinance blocking all flights from the U.K. and banning anyone who had been in the U.K. in the previous 14 days from entering Italy.

Anyone who has already arrived in Italy from the U.K. will have to undergo a test, Mr. Speranza wrote on his Facebook page, without specifying how recently such arrivals must have occurred in order to trigger the requirement.

“The Covid variant, recently discovered in London, is worrying and will need to be investigated by our scientists. In the meantime we choose the path of maximum prudence,” Mr. Speranza wrote.

The top U.S. official overseeing coronavirus testing said he didn’t foresee a quick U.S. ban on United Kingdom travel.

“I really don’t believe we need to do that yet,” Adm. Brett Giroir said on ABC News’ “This Week.” Adm. Giroir said the new virus mutation was localized within the U.K., adding, “We have not seen a single (virus) mutation yet that would make it evade the vaccine.”

The U.S. State Department currently recommends travelers reconsider visiting the U.K., while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against going there.

The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.K. reported 27,052 new daily infections Saturday, taking the total number of known cases in Britain to more than 2 million. There are currently almost 19,000 people in the hospital with Covid-19, and the country has reported more than 400 deaths a day on average during the past seven days.

The U.K. earlier this month became the first Western country to begin vaccinating people with a clinically approved vaccine. Mr. Johnson said 350,000 people had now received shots. That compared with more than 137,000 on Dec. 15.

EU officials expect this week to approve the same vaccine and begin administering it on Dec. 27.

Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said Saturday that the new strain had already displaced earlier ones in parts of England. “This virus is taking off, it’s moving fast and it’s leading inevitably to a sharp increase in hospital admissions,” he said.

Write to Daniel Michaels at daniel.michaels@wsj.com

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