European nations have begun to impose travel bans on the UK after it reported a more-infectious and “out of control” coronavirus variant.
Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium are all halting flights. The measures vary and are initially short-term but the French rules also affect Channel freight.
An EU meeting on Monday morning will discuss a more co-ordinated response.
The new variant has spread quickly in London and south-east England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday introduced a new tier four level of restrictions for those areas, scrapping a planned relaxation of rules over the Christmas period for millions of people.
Top health officials said that there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly, or would react differently to vaccines, but it was proving to be up to 70% more transmissible.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the new strain “was out of control. We have got to get it under control”, admitting that this was “an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year”.
Within hours of the UK announcement on Saturday, the Netherlands said it would ban all passenger flights from the UK until 1 January.
Later on Sunday it said it would also bar ferry passengers arriving from the UK, although freight would continue.
The country on Sunday reported a daily increase of more than 13,000 cases – a new record, despite tough lockdown measures being applied on 14 December.
As Sunday wore on, major new restrictions were imposed by key European nations.
France suspended all travel links, including freight lorries, with the UK for 48 hours from midnight on Sunday (23:00 GMT).
Thousands of lorries move between the countries every day.
In response to France’s ban, Eurotunnel said it would suspend access to its Folkestone terminal from 22:00 GMT for traffic heading to Calais. People booked to travel on Monday can get a refund. Trains will still run from Calais to Folkestone.
The ferry terminal at Dover is now closed for all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice because of the French restrictions.
The freight issue has become so pressing that Mr Johnson will chair a COBRA emergency response meeting on the matter on Monday.
In Ireland, which has significant passenger traffic with the UK at this time of year, the government announced that flights arriving from the UK would be banned for 48 hours at least from midnight, and “in the interests of public health, people in Britain, regardless of nationality, should not travel to Ireland, by air or sea”.
Ferry crossings for freight would continue. (Courtesy BBC)