Chaos In Heathrow As Hundreds Of Passengers Scramble Onto Last Flight Out Of London Minutes Before Travel Ban Set For Midnight

London's Heathrow Airport was pictured descending into chaos last night as hundreds of passengers scrambled onto the last flight to Dublin minutes before a Covid-19 travel ban set in at midnight to nations across Europe including Ireland.  

Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee today after more than a dozen countries - initially in Europe and then around the world - announced they were stopping flights from the UK, following the discovery of the '70 per cent more infectious' mutant coronavirus strain which plunged London and the south east into Tier Four.  

France joined Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and Denmark in banning  all flights carrying passengers from the UK into Europe for at least a 48 hour period, with some suspending flights into the New Year, while assessing the new strain.

Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and El Salvador later followed suit, while pressure was last night mounting on the United States to take action after Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said Canada was putting a 72-hour stop on travel from the UK.  

Crowds of people had packed into Heathrow Terminal 5 to await updates of a reportedly overbooked British Airways flight, operated by Aer Lingus, which was scheduled to take off at 8.55pm to Dublin. 

Passenger Rachael Scully, 23, tweeted that the Irish Government eventually gave the 'green light' for the flight which was set to leave at 10:30pm and due to land with 15 minutes to spare before the travel ban at midnight.

She wrote: 'Irish gov have given the green light and we’ve been processed for a BA flight. Due to land at 23:45. Woops of joy once the news got out. A Christmas miracle! [sic]' 

 Ireland announced its temporary 48-hour travel ban on non-essential flights from Britain which came into force at midnight and includes passengers on flights and ferries. 

A British Airways spokesman told MailOnline: 'Our teams looked after customers while we urgently looked into alternative arrangements to get them on their way to Dublin as quickly as possible.'   

However some Irish people tweeted the stranded Heathrow passengers to urge them to stay put following the discovery of the '70 per cent more infectious' mutant coronavirus strain which plunged London and the south east into Tier Four.  

One commented: 'With all due respect guys, you are traveling from one of highest infected regions with a more infectious strain of #Covid_19..You guys run the risk of bringing it to #Ireland. Please consider staying put. It's hard I know.'

Another wrote: 'Pls rethink your plans. You risk bringing a more contagious strain of covid to Ireland. Elderly and vulnerable people are literally spending Xmas alone, inside afraid of seeing their families. Don't be selfish, flights from the UK to here are now being stopped for good reason [sic].' 

It comes amid growing fears Britain's supermarket shelves may be emptied after France included British lorries in its ban on travel. 

The Port of Dover closed to all freight vehicles leaving the UK last night for the next 48 hours. Hauliers coming to Britain from France will still be allowed in but there are fears that lorry drivers will not travel to avoid being 'marooned' in the UK.

The Food and Drink Federation CEO Ian Wright said: 'Tonight's suspension of accompanied freight traffic from the UK to France has the potential to cause serious disruption to UK Christmas fresh food supplies and exports of UK food and drink.

'Continental truckers will not want to travel here if they have a real fear of getting marooned

'The Government must very urgently persuade the French government to exempt accompanied freight from its ban.'

One road haulage boss told the BBC that while lorries are still allowed from France to the UK, he feared that many European drivers would be unwilling to make the trip fearing they could not get home for Christmas – meaning British supermarket shelves could empty.

He told the broadcaster: ‘Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse – disaster upon disaster. I fear for supermarket supply chains. Many will be reluctant to make the crossing to UK if they can’t get back given there is already congestion.'   

The Eurotunnel Le Shuttle has said that the UK-France border will close at 11pm tonight and the last shuttle between the UK and France is at 9.24pm with access to the UK prohibited from 10pm.

It comes as the Eurostar has also cancelled its trains between London, Brussels in Belgium and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, starting from Monday.   

US authorities are looking 'very carefully' into the virus variant spreading in the United Kingdom, top health officials said Sunday, while indicating that a ban on UK travel was not currently in the cards.

Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor to the government's Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, told CNN's 'State of the Union' that US officials 'don't know yet' if the variant is present in the country.

'We are, of course... looking very carefully into this,' including at the National Institutes of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,' he said.

At the moment, he said, no strain of the virus appears to be resistant to the vaccines available.

'This particular variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity,' Slaoui said.

Eurostar stated on its website: 'Due to announcements from the French and Belgian governments that borders with the UK will close at midnight on Sunday 20th December, we are unable to run any trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on either Monday 21st December or Tuesday 22nd December.

'We are also unable to run trains from Amsterdam, Brussels and Lille to London on these dates. We can confirm that our trains will continue to operate from Paris to London.

'The plan is to resume all our train services to and from the UK on Wednesday 23rd December.' 

The travel restrictions come after southern England was plunged into a Tier 4 lockdown in a bid to suppress a 'mutant' strain of coronavirus.  

The Netherlands was the first country to announce a travel ban, which will remain in place until January 1, its government said in a statement early today.  

France's Prime Minister Jean Castex tweeted: 'All flows of people from the United Kingdom to France are suspended from midnight tonight, for 48 hours, and for all means of transport.' 

Ireland has imposed a 48-hour travel ban on non-essential flights from Britain from midnight which includes passengers on flights and ferries. 

However there will be no ban or travel restrictions for passengers travelling between the Republic and Northern Ireland. 

The rules are to be reviewed during Tuesday's Cabinet meeting but it is understood they will be extended beyond then.

Ireland's Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said ferries will continue to operate for freight and added: 'We have to do this because the UK Government themselves has put in place very strict restrictions on movements.

'This new strain of coronavirus, which they have identified, seems to have a much higher transmission rate.'

Germany announced all UK flights, with the exception of cargo flights, would no longer be allowed to land in the country. 

The ban is reportedly set to remain in place until at least December 31, according to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, also called a special crisis meeting on Monday to co-ordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc's 27 member states.

The Dutch government added that it is monitoring developments and is considering additional measures regarding other modes of transport.

According to the World Health Organisation, the strain has already been identified in Denmark and the Netherlands, while one case was found in Australia. 

Belgium also said it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight for 24 hours. 

Italy's health minister Roberto Speranza said an order was signed today blocking flights from Britain and preventing anyone who had been to the UK in the last 14 days from entering Italy. The order bans plane travel until January 6.  

Meanwhile El Salvador has banned travellers who have been in the UK or South Africa in the last 30 days or whose flights included a layover those countries. 

South Africa has also identified a new variant of the virus, which has likewise prompted planned travel curbs. 

The Czech Republic was also imposing new measures against UK flights with Prague announcing stricter quarantine rules with all people arriving in the country having spent at least 24 hours in UK territory required to self-isolate. 

Ministers expect other countries to impose travel bans on UK citizens to prevent the new strain from spreading.       

The travel bans came into effect less than 24 hours after Boris Johnson last night claimed that the new strain of Covid-19 might be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains. 

Police Scotland will double its presence along the border with England but will not set up checkpoints and road blocks to enforce Nicola Sturgeon's coronavirus travel restrictions, Scotland's top police chief said today. 

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said that he does not consider draconian curbs on cross-border travel 'appropriate or proportionate' as he doubled the number of officers in the Border areas. 

In a statement, the Police Scotland chief said 'highly visible patrols' would instead 'deter anyone who might be considering breaching the coronavirus travel restrictions'. 

Indoor mixing will only be allowed on Christmas Day and most of Scotland will be put into the highest level of lockdown from Boxing Day, with a 'strict travel ban' preventing travel to other parts of the UK. 

The First Minister last night cut the Christmas amnesty to one day after Boris Johnson plunged London and much of the South East of England into a brutal new Tier 4 lockdown amid rising coronavirus cases caused by a 'mutant' strain of the disease. 

A 'strict travel ban' between Scotland and the rest of the UK will remain in place throughout the Christmas holidays while Indoor mixing will only be allowed on Christmas Day. It had been planned to ease the rules for five days, between December 23 and 27. 

Tougher level four rules will also apply across mainland Scotland from Boxing Day and the school return date has been pushed back to January 11.

The PM effectively cancelled Christmas for around 18 million people in southern England, including London, last night by moving swathes of the country into a brutal new Tier 4 regime.  

Under the new Tier 4 rules non-essential shops – as well as gyms, cinemas, casinos and hairdressers – have to stay shut and people are limited to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

Those in Tier 4 were told they should not travel out of the region, while those outside were advised against visiting. 

WHO's Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove told the BBC today: 'We understand that this variant has been identified also in Denmark, in the Netherlands and there was one case in Australia and it didn't spread further there.

'We understand that the virus does not cause more severe disease from the preliminary information that [the UK] shared with us, although again those studies are underway to look at hospitalized patients with this variant.' 

In the rest of England, Christmas easing has been severely curtailed, with households allowed to gather for just one day – Christmas Day itself – rather than the five days previously planned.     

With the new variant now sweeping across other parts of the UK including Wales, European governments have imposed blanket bans on flights from the British Isles. 

The Netherlands ban came into effect this morning and the government said it was reacting to tougher measures imposed in London and surrounding areas on Saturday by Mr Johnson.

It added that it will assess 'with other European Union nations the possibilities to contain the import of the virus from the United Kingdom'. The Dutch government is already strongly advising its citizens not to travel unless absolutely necessary. 

Belgium's prime minister issued a ban for at least 24 hours while the situation was assessed.  Alexander De Croo saying he was issuing the order for 24 hours starting at midnight 'out of precaution'.

'There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland,' he said. He hoped to have more clarity as of Tuesday.  

Italian media reports suggest about two dozen flights are scheduled to arrive in Italy on Sunday, most in the northern region of Lombardy but also in Veneto and Lazio, which include Venice and Rome, respectively.

More than 327,000 Italian citizens are registered as living in Britain, with the unofficial total reaching up to 700,000.

Sunday is the last day that Italians can travel from one region to another before the Christmas holidays, due to a new partial lockdown imposed by the government to prevent a fresh surge in infections.  

The UK has alerted the World Health Organisation that the new variant identified this week appears to be accelerating the spread of Covid-19, saying it accounted for some 60 per cent of the capital's cases.

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands different of mutations among samples of the virus causing Covid-19. 

But many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.  

The Irish Government is set to impose travel restrictions on flights and ferries from Britain to Ireland. It is understood the restrictions will come into force later on Sunday and last for 48 hours.

The Government is to make a formal announcement on the latest measures in the next few hours. The restrictions are to be reviewed during Tuesday's Cabinet meeting. 

Earlier today, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that party leaders are looking at flights and ferries coming from Britain. Speaking on The Week on RTE Radio One, he said that any decision would be confirmed on Sunday.

'I expect the Irish Government will make an announcement later today on travel restrictions,' Mr Donnelly added. 'We are worried about it (new strain of coronavirus).'

He also said that they would not 'seal the border' between Northern Ireland and the Republic but that strong advice would be issued.

Fianna Fail TD Jim O'Callaghan said that the Government will consider advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) when it meets on Tuesday.

Asked whether Ireland will implement a travel ban on flights from Britain, Mr O'Callaghan told RTE: 'We need to recognise that this country is in a much better position than the United Kingdom.

'If you look at what happened in the UK yesterday, it is very unacceptable that a government would announce on 4pm on a Saturday before Christmas that people can't travel before 12pm that evening.

'The reason for that is because decisions were not made earlier enough by Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson.

'We've done a good job in this country.

'We need to look at other statistics in terms of numbers, they have gone up but we always knew they were going to go up.'

He said the rate at which cases are rising is of concern.

'We need to take into account that we are in a good position here but I think that we recognise that household visits seems to be the driver of this,' he added.

'The statistics from the HSE show the danger is in household visits and I suspect that Government will revisit that in terms of limiting the number of people that can visit households.'

Sinn Fein's Lynn Boylan said: 'Instead of a flight ban we need to fix what we haven't actually done in the pandemic which is monitoring people coming in to the country and having proper contact tracing and testing as opposed to what it is. 

Matt Hancock today hit out at 'totally irresponsible' Londoners who fled the capital last night after Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people in southern England.

The Health Secretary sighed and shook his head as Sky News's Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme showed him social-media images of large crowds queueing on a packed platform at St Pancras Station. 

In a round of TV interviews this morning, Mr Hancock said people living in brutal new Tier 4 regions in London and the South and East of England should 'unpack their bags' and 'restrict social contact' this Christmas.

He hinted that the tough restrictions on movement will be in place for months and warned that 'of course' police will enforce the new law and will prevent people from leaving Tier 4 areas.    

'I think we need to have a system where people are going to restrict their movements and they are followed up.

'It is a huge concern about people coming home from Britain over Christmas and if they are carrying that strain.

'I find it more concerning that we've had nearly a year now and never actually cracked that nut of tracking the people coming in and leaving the country.'

Ireland's chief medical officer has also urged people to stay at home and avoid restaurants as cases of coronavirus rise across the country.

Dr Tony Holohan said people should not meet up and warned against being in crowds.

It is the latest warning from the chief medical officer who said there is strong reason for 'persistent, ongoing concern' over Ireland's recent Covid-19 figures.

He tweeted on Sunday morning: 'Cases rising quickly. We have low cases and deaths compared to EU/UK/US. This is at risk now - just as vaccines arrive.

'To protect yourself and those you love: Stay home. Don't meet up. Stay away from restaurants/pubs. Avoid crowds. Use masks. Follow health advice.'

Germany is also considering banning flights from the UK and South Africa 'as a serious option' to prevent the spread of the new strain circulating in the two countries, a source close to the German health ministry said today.   

The country wants to ban all flights from the UK from midnight until January 6, Bild newspaper said, citing government sources. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet will vote later on Sunday on a decree prepared by the health minister and she will hold a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss a coordinated EU response to the new strain of the virus detected in Britain. 

The chancellery was not immediately available for comment.

Austria said it would also halt flights from the U.K. but there were no immediate details on the timing of the ban, the Austrian news agency APA reported. 

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from the UK. They announced that all people arriving in the country who spent at least 24 hours on British territory during the last two weeks have to isolate as of this Sunday. 

Spain said that in response to the moves by some of its European Union partners, it had asked the European Commission and the European Council for a coordinated response from the bloc to the new situation. 

Otherwise it would act unilaterally to defend its interests and citizens, the Madrid government said.  

Post a comment