Most EU countries have now announced measures banning travel from the U.K. over fears passengers could carry a new, highly contagious strain of the coronavirus to the Continent. This is what we know so far.
1. Why is this happening?
EU governments jumped into action after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday announced last-minute restrictions in London and the southeast of England, blaming it on a new strain of the coronavirus he said is up to 70 percent more transmissible.
Cases of the contagious strain have already been detected in EU countries, including the Netherlands, Denmark and Belgium.
2. Which countries are stopping U.K. travel?
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Ireland, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Turkey, Romania, Portugal, and Poland have all announced they’re restricting travel from the U.K.
Ireland halted flights, although ferries are continuing to sail “in order to keep essential supply chains moving,” the government said. The travel ban doesn’t apply to maritime and shipping workers as well as truck drivers.
Poland, which has almost 1 million citizens in the U.K., is only halting flights as of midnight Monday — allowing dozens of airplanes to continue to land on Monday.
Other countries may still follow.
3. What’s the timeframe?
Several countries, including Belgium and Luxembourg, brought in temporary 24-hour travel bans as a precaution while authorities decide how to deal with the new coronavirus strain, others haven’t specified an end date yet. France announced a ban of at least 48 hours, to get time to firm up a common EU approach.
French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said Monday that France aims to set up a European sanitary protocol “in the coming hours … to allow flows to the United Kingdom to resume.”
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on Sunday said scientific consultations were still ongoing, and the government would extend the ban if there were more “conclusive” results. Internal Minister Annelies Verlinden on Monday said a one- or two-week ban was likely.
Some countries have moved faster. The Baltic states and the Netherlands announced restrictions until January 1, but several other countries, including Finland, Italy and Romania, put forward a two-week ban. Bulgaria ended travel until January 31.
4. What about other modes of transport?
Several countries have extended their travel bans to other modes of transport. Bulgaria forbade entry of people from the U.K. “through all border crossings by air, sea, rail and road transport.” France on Sunday halted all movement of people from the U.K., whether by rail, road, water or air, and even included people moving freight.
Eurostar links to Belgium and the Netherlands have been halted, and the Dutch government also banned passenger traffic via ferries.
Ireland shifted additional ferries to make direct runs to France, avoiding the U.K.
5. Are there exemptions?
Yes — some countries are making exceptions for their own citizens to return, or allowing freight or cargo transport to continue.
Spain said Monday it will allow its own nationals and residents to enter from the U.K.
Bulgaria has said citizens, long-term and permanent residents, as well as their families, can come back as long as they quarantine for 10 days upon arrival. Portugal is letting residents and citizens return as long as they have a negative test result — if they don’t they’ll be tested upon arrival at the airport, with quarantine measures to be determined by health professionals.
In contrast, the Netherlands has forbidden all passengers, including Dutch citizens, from returning — but will allow ferries with freight and returning truck drivers into the ports of Rotterdam and IJmuiden.
The Irish government said: “in the interests of public health, people in Britain, regardless of nationality, should not travel to Ireland, by air or by sea.”
Finland has created exemptions to allow “overflights, technical stopovers, transfer flights with own crew, state aviation, ambulance flights [and] cargo flights” to continue — and while direct flights between the U.K. and Finland have been stopped, flights originating in the U.K. and stopping elsewhere could still be let in.
6. Are freight flows impacted?
Yes. While most countries specified that their restrictions don’t apply to freight, France also extended its 48-hour ban on travel to people moving cargo. Paris argued it would use that time to organize a “secure” restart of movement, but in the meantime, the move is having far-reaching consequences for cross-Channel freight flows.
With the Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover both closed in response to the restrictions, U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned of “significant disruption” in Kent and asked truckers not to try any routes to France.
The announcement comes at a time traffic across the Channel is already fraught with delays. “This is an absolute hammer blow after all the queues that we’ve had in ports in the last week, caused by Brexit stockpiling and of course the Christmas rush,” Rod McKenzie, the managing director of the Road Haulage Association, told the BBC. Other routes to the EU “are a very long way round,” he said.
Thousands of truck drivers are trapped in the U.K. as massive traffic jams grow on the approaches to the country’s big ports.
Retailers had stocked up on some goods ahead of Christmas, so that should prevent some immediate problems, provided people don’t start panic buying in the next few hours. Supermarkets in Britain are also looking at sourcing more from within the U.K. while considering alternative routes to bring goods from Europe.
“Shoppers should not panic buy — retailers will be making every effort to ensure there is stock within the system, including fresh produce,” said Logistics UK, the hauliers’ lobby.
7. How is this going to affect Christmas?
The coronavirus has not only limited the number of guests around British Christmas tables — it now threatens to ruin the menu for millions of families across the U.K. While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will want to send lorries and drivers to the U.K. without knowing they can return to the EU immediately after delivering their cargos.
The freight ban couldn’t come at a worse time for traders. About 10,000 trucks pass through the English Channel daily during the run-up to Christmas, mostly carrying fresh foods sourced from the sunnier lands of Southern Europe.
Even though the kitchen cupboards of British families are likely to be fuller this week than during the rest of the year, it is likely that some fresh foods with a particularly short shelf life, including seafood and salad, will disappear from British supermarkets in the next 48 hours if a solution to the freight ban is not found. U.K. supermarket giant Sainsbury’s said Monday that if nothing changes, they will start to run out of lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit, all of which are imported from the Continent at this time of the year.
People in other European countries might experience shortages of fresh food too. Seafood is a major ingredient in Spanish Christmas meals, but the Scottish Seafood Association said Scottish seafood might fail to arrive in time, due to the closure of the Dover-Calais route. One relatively small firm, for instance, has £230,000 worth of live shellfish stuck at the border, with a further £250,000 worth ready to go.
This article has been updated.