World closes borders to Britain as new COVID strain surges breeding panic

Reuters- More countries closed their borders to Britain on Monday over fears of a highly infectious new coronavirus strain, heightening global panic, causing travel chaos and raising the prospect of UK food shortages just days before the Brexit cliff edge.
India, Poland, Switzerland, Russia and Hong Kong suspended travel for Britons after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a mutated variant of the virus up to 70% more infectious had been identified in the country, while Japan and South Korea said they were monitoring the situation.

A slew of countries have already suspended travel, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Israel and Canada.

The discovery of the new strain, just months before vaccines are expected to be widely available, sowed fresh panic in a pandemic that has killed about 1.7 million people worldwide and more than 67,000 in Britain.

Australia said two people who travelled from the United Kingdom to New South Wales state were found to be carrying the mutated virus.

Johnson will chair an emergency response meeting on Monday to discuss international travel, in particular the flow of freight in and out of Britain. EU officials held a meeting on coordinating their response.

France shut its border to arrivals of people and trucks from Britain, closing off one of the most important trade arteries with mainland Europe.

As families and truck drivers tried to navigate the travel bans to get back home in time for Christmas, Britain’s second-largest supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s, said gaps would start to appear on shelves within days if transport ties were not quickly restored with mainland Europe.

“If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year,” Sainsbury’s said.

Shellfish producers in Scotland said they had tonnes of perishable products stranded on roads as the French border was closed. Disruption in Britain will also snarl supplies to Ireland.

“No driver wants to deliver to the UK now, so the UK is going to see its freight supply dry up,” France’s FNTR national road haulage federation said.

The global alarm was reflected in financial markets.

European shares slumped, with travel and leisure stocks bearing the brunt of the pain; British Airways-owner IAG and easyJet fell about 8%, while Air France KLM lost about 7%.

The British pound tumbled 2.5% against the dollar, and was on course for its biggest one-day drop since March, while the yield on two-year UK government bonds hit a record low.

Britain’s tabloids bemoaned the crisis.

“Sick Man of Europe”, the Daily Mirror newspaper said on its front page beside a picture of Johnson while the Sun newspaper said “French show no merci”.

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