Coronavirus UK: Rail passengers in Tier 4 areas WILL get refunds after scrapping Xmas travel plans

Refunds for cancelled Christmas journeys: Who IS eligible? 

The Department for Transport says passengers who have been forced to cancel their domestic Christmas travel plans can get bookings refunded.

The compensation scheme applies to train and coach bookings only.

Who is eligible?

  • Anyone in Tier 4 who has cancelled train and coach bookings made in England for the previous Christmas travel window of December 23 to 27.
  • Tickets will only be refunded if they were purchased between November 24 and before the travel window was amended on December 19. 
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Passengers in Tier 4 regions who have been forced to scrap their Christmas travel plans will get their train and coach bookings refunded, the Government announced today.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said customers will not be ‘left out of pocket’ for ‘doing the right thing’ by binning their family reunions as a ‘mutant’ strain of coronavirus spreads through the country. 

The Department for Transport (DfT) said cash refunds will be provided for cancelled rail and coach bookings in England for the previous Christmas travel window of December 23 to 27. 

Tickets will only be refunded if they were purchased between November 24 and before the travel window was amended on December 19 – meaning people who now pay for tickets and are stopped by police from leaving Tier 4 regions will not be compensated.

People who planned on flying back home are also not included in the Government’s refund scheme, after major airlines including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic revealed they will not refund cancelled trips for the end of the year. 

The DfT compensation plan also does not apply to people living in areas outside of Tier 4 in England, and for people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

It comes as millions of Christmas plans have been left in tatters after Boris Johnson effectively cancelled the winter holiday for nearly 18 million people in London and much of southern England. 

Passengers are advised to check their train operator’s website for how to claim. 

In a statement, Mr Shapps said: ‘It is imperative that we all follow the new measures and play our part in tackling this virus, protecting others and safeguarding our NHS.

‘If you booked a coach or rail journey between 23 and 27 December, you are entitled to a cash refund. This ensures no-one is left out of pocket for doing the right thing – staying home in Tier 4, and elsewhere staying local and only meeting your Christmas bubble on Christmas Day.’ 

Matt Hancock had said yesterday that the Government is looking into compensating people who have had to scrap their travel plans.  

He also warned that police would stop people from leaving London as extra officers have been deployed at train stations across the capital as Londoners try to flee the city to spend December 25 with loved ones.

Mr Shapps also said extra British Transport Police officers would be deployed at London’s railway stations to prevent ‘non-essential’ journeys. 

Masked police patrolled King’s Cross, St Pancras, Waterloo and Euston stations after scenes emerged at the weekend of big queues of Londoners taking trains north and west to escape the brutal new Tier 4.

In other coronavirus news: 

  • Italy becomes the fifth country to spot mutated Covid virus after infected British traveller flew to Rome
  • Calls for US authorities to join 32 nations blocking all visitors from UK amid outbreak of new Covid strain
  • Tory MPs urge Government to ‘come clean’, recall Parliament and present evidence on mutant Covid strain
  • Sainsbury’s warns of shortage in salad, broccoli and citrus fruits as panic-buyers queue for supermarkets
  • More than £45 billion is wiped off FTSE 100 as markets fall 2.6% down this morning after Tier 4 introduction
  • ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson warns draconian measures may be needed for months – even up to Easter
  • Streets and stations are eerily empty as Tier 4 leaves London showing little sign of life in run up to Christmas 
People at Euston station, London, yesterday as London was moved into Tier 4

People at Euston station, London, yesterday as London was moved into Tier 4

People at Euston station, London, yesterday as London was moved into Tier 4

People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on Saturday as people scramble to get out of London before Tier 4 rules come into power at midnight

People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on Saturday as people scramble to get out of London before Tier 4 rules come into power at midnight

People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on Saturday as people scramble to get out of London before Tier 4 rules come into power at midnight

People sitting masked in Euston Station today while waiting for trains to take them out of Tier 4 London in time for Christmas

People sitting masked in Euston Station today while waiting for trains to take them out of Tier 4 London in time for Christmas

People sitting masked in Euston Station today while waiting for trains to take them out of Tier 4 London in time for Christmas

Police outside Kings Cross Underground Station as the capital is plunged into Tier 4

Police outside Kings Cross Underground Station as the capital is plunged into Tier 4

Police outside Kings Cross Underground Station as the capital is plunged into Tier 4

A member of BTP patrols the main concourse at Waterloo Station in London yesterday

A member of BTP patrols the main concourse at Waterloo Station in London yesterday

A member of BTP patrols the main concourse at Waterloo Station in London yesterday

People go through barriers to catch trains at Paddington Station in London. The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Boris Johnson explained during a press briefing on Saturday

People go through barriers to catch trains at Paddington Station in London. The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Boris Johnson explained during a press briefing on Saturday

People go through barriers to catch trains at Paddington Station in London. The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Boris Johnson explained during a press briefing on Saturday

People in Euston Station are seen sitting down waiting for their trains to other parts of England as Tier 4 comes into force

People in Euston Station are seen sitting down waiting for their trains to other parts of England as Tier 4 comes into force

People in Euston Station are seen sitting down waiting for their trains to other parts of England as Tier 4 comes into force

 

It comes as millions of Christmas plans have been left in tatters after Boris Johnson effectively cancelled the winter holiday for nearly 18 million people in London and much of southern England by placing those regions into Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions

It comes as millions of Christmas plans have been left in tatters after Boris Johnson effectively cancelled the winter holiday for nearly 18 million people in London and much of southern England by placing those regions into Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions

It comes as millions of Christmas plans have been left in tatters after Boris Johnson effectively cancelled the winter holiday for nearly 18 million people in London and much of southern England by placing those regions into Tier 4 coronavirus restrictions 

Which parts of the country are in Tier 4?

Kent

Buckinghamshire

Berkshire

Surrey (excluding Waverley)

The boroughs of Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings

All 32 London boroughs and the city of London.

Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough

Hertfordshire

Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).

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The Health Secretary hit out at the ‘totally irresponsible’ Londoners, while the Met Police warned the ‘most dangerous and flagrant breaches’ of Tier 4 regulations now in force will see fines given out.

In a round of TV interviews yesterday, Mr Hancock told people living in London and parts of the South and East of England living in the toughest tier regime to ‘unpack their bags’ and ‘reduce social contact’.

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. 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.    

Wales has also announced it is going into a full lockdown and will follow suit by slashing bubbles to a single day. Nicola Sturgeon said at her own press conference that a ban on cross-border travel is being upgraded, and the law will be changed to cut bubbles to one day.  

Within 90 minutes of the PM’s bombshell announcement, Londoners were jumping into cars and taxis and even hiring vehicles to escape the city before Tier 4 came into force, the AA told the Mail on Sunday.

Its president Edmund King called the fleeing a ‘mini exodus’, adding: ‘It is almost like a wall is coming down around London and the South East and some people are scrambling to get away to save their Christmas before midnight.’ 

Italy becomes the FIFTH country to spot mutated Covid virus after infected British traveller flew to Rome – as France admits it’s ‘entirely possible’ it has cases too 

Italy has detected a patient infected with the mutated strain of coronavirus that emerged in Britain, becoming the fifth country outside the UK to report a case.

The Italian patient flew from the UK to Rome in the last few days with his partner, who did not test positive, Italy’s health ministry said. The pair are now isolating.

So far, cases of the new variant, said to be up to 70 per cent more infectious than regular Covid, have been spotted in Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and Belgium.

In November there were nine instances of the strain in Denmark and one in Australia, while the Netherlands announced it had detected a case this month. There have also been unconfirmed reports of at least one case in Belgium.

Scotland and Wales have both picked up cases of the strain in recent weeks, although it is spreading predominantly in London and the South East of England, where it’s thought to account for 60 per cent of all new infections.

France’s health minister said this morning it was ‘entirely possible’ the version of the virus was already circulating in France despite tests not picking it up yet, while Northern Ireland’s First Minister said it was ‘probable’ the strain was there, too.

More than a dozen countries – including France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Canada – have banned travel to and from the UK as part of an international crackdown to contain the mutant strain. 

European Union leaders are holding a crisis meeting later today to unify the bloc’s response to prevent the variant becoming more widespread on the continent. 

There are now fears Britain’s supermarket shelves could soon stand empty with France’s ban on British lorries set to stop Continental hauliers bringing in vital festive food supplies. 

There are also concerns that the chaos could disrupt supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to the UK which is made in Belgium – with military aircraft set to airlift supplies if the ban lasts for longer than 48 hours.  

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Northerners warned against Londoners fleeing the capital after videos and photos appeared on social media which showed long queues in St Pancras Station. 

Branding it the ‘last train out of Saigon’ – a reference to the evacuation of US personnel during the Vietnam War – journalist Harriet Clugston wrote: ‘Every person on this train including myself has made what is probably a very silly and irresponsible decision to travel albeit within the law.

‘But that’s what people were always going to do to be together at Christmas.’  

An announcement warned passengers that it would not be possible to maintain social distancing on the train. 

Poppy Wood, 25, rushed to King’s Cross station to board a 7.30pm train before the restrictions were imposed. She said: ‘What a disaster. I’m so angry at the Government – the whole thing has been shockingly handled.’

Miss Wood, who was travelling to her parents’ home in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, with her brother and her boyfriend, said the station was ‘surprisingly socially distanced but very sombre’. ‘Everyone is just looking up at the screens quite longingly,’ she added.

‘It’s not panicked at all – it’s very calm. I think the threat has become very real and people are actually quite nervous, which hasn’t been the case for a while in London.

‘I was meant to be doing all my Christmas shopping today but with everything going on I hadn’t got anything done. I have just ransacked every shop in the station to get both my boyfriend and my brother a Christmas present.’ 

Social media sites were flooded with people voicing their anger at having their Christmas travel arrangements torpedoed.

‘I’m beyond furious,’ said Londoner Michael Wood, 25, who has had to cancel Christmas with his parents in Norfolk. ‘The Government should have provided more forward guidance, rather than cancelling Christmas with four days to go.

‘It’s easy to say we’ll get through it but not when you’re on your own in a shoebox apartment.’

Rose Wilford, who also lives on her own in London, has been isolating for the last seven days and was planning on travelling back to her parents in Worcestershire for Christmas.

‘Now that the tier 4 has come into place I’m not able to travel and will have to spend Christmas on my own,’ she said.

‘This year has been particularly hard on my mental health and to find out that I have to spend Christmas on my own is devastating.’  

Meanwhile British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have revealed they will not be offering refunds to passengers who cancel trips for the end of the year following the new restrictions.  

The Virgin Atlantic Twitter account posted: ‘Refunds are only permitted for cancelled flights. If you have booked with us directly, you have the option to rebook for a new travel date up until 31 December 2022.

‘If you have booked with a third party, please contact them directly for your options.’

British Airways customer Lisa Hunter tweeted at the airline saying: ‘Just been moved into Tier 4 yet just been told on phone we cannot have a refund for flights booked for over xmas as ”the flight isn’t cancelled”.

‘It’s now illegal to travel out of Tier 4 areas so surely this cannot be the case? Heathrow is in Tier 4!’

People in Euston Station are seen sitting down waiting for their trains to other parts of England as Tier 4 comes into force

People in Euston Station are seen sitting down waiting for their trains to other parts of England as Tier 4 comes into force

People in Euston Station are seen sitting down waiting for their trains to other parts of England as Tier 4 comes into force

People wearing face masks stand waiting for their trains at London's King's Cross Station as the capital moves into Tier 4

People wearing face masks stand waiting for their trains at London's King's Cross Station as the capital moves into Tier 4

People wearing face masks stand waiting for their trains at London’s King’s Cross Station as the capital moves into Tier 4

Furious Northerners blasted ‘selfish’ Londoners who fled the capital last night to avoid spending Christmas in a brutal new Tier 4 lockdown, amid fears they will spread the ‘mutant’ strain of coronavirus across the country. Twitter users from the North and West today slammed large crowds queueing on a packed platform at London’s St Pancras Station to board the last train to Leeds, calling them ‘irresponsible’, ‘b******s’ and ‘plague rats’

Tier Four until EASTER: ‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson warns draconian measures may be needed for months 

Millions of families face living under draconian Tier Four restrictions until Easter, according to the scientist whose grim modelling spooked No10 into sending Britain into its first lockdown back in March. 

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, an Imperial College London epidemiologist who quit his role as a Government adviser after breaking rules to see his married lover, today claimed the harshest curbs could ‘possibly’ have to stay until the spring and admitted Britain was now in a race to vaccinate people.  

He warned Britain’s situation was ‘not looking optimistic right now’. It comes after Matt Hancock yesterday warned the Tier Four restrictions could be extended nationwide, after the Health Secretary said the virus was now ‘out of control’ following the emergence of a fast-spreading new variant.

Boris Johnson sparked fury on Saturday night after he cancelled Christmas for more than 16million people living in London and across the South East. Shops, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons were ordered to shut again, with residents told not to leave Tier Four.

In his embarrassing U-turn, the Prime Minister – who last week claimed it would be ‘inhuman’ to cancel Christmas – also slashed a festive amnesty from five days to just one for the rest of the UK. 

It comes after it was revealed yesterday that Professor Ferguson played a major role in researching the variant that triggered the dramatic cancellation of Christmas. He was among those attending a meeting of Nervtag – the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group – to discuss the new mutant strain on Friday.

The Imperial expert said it was now a simple race to ‘get vaccines in people’s arms’ because the virus couldn’t be stopped any other way. And a colleague of his, infectious diseases expert Professor Wendy Barclay, said it was possible that if the virus mutates enough the immunity produced by vaccines might not work, although there is no proof that this is true of the new strain.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine is being rolled out rapidly but it is complicated because it must be kept in specialist freezers. Regulators now face pressure to approve England’s own vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca – a decision is expected within the next week. Another completed vaccine by US company Moderna, which trials showed was 94.5 per cent effective, has been pre-ordered by the UK but won’t be available until the spring.

Dozens of countries have all already banned travel from Britain over fears the mutated strain of coronavirus could spread, with France last night causing chaos over the last minute decision to shut the border. Mr Johnson will hold crisis talks with Ministers today as he chairs the Government’s Cobra committee amid warnings of ‘significant disruption’ around the Channel ports in Kent. 

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BA replied: ‘Hi Lisa, flights are continuing to operate, as essential travel is still permitted. We’re afraid a full refund is only permitted if your flight is cancelled.’

A BA spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Customers who are unable to travel, or choose not to, can continue to change their flights or request a voucher for future use as part of our Book with Confidence policy, which has been available since the beginning of the pandemic.

As always, if a customer’s flight is cancelled they are entitled to a full refund or a voucher, and we always contact any customers whose flights may be affected to discuss their options.’

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson told MailOnline: ”We understand the difficulties that Covid-19 and Tier 4 restrictions pose to some of our customers. 

‘Where a customer is unable to travel for any reason, we offer as much choice and flexibility as possible to help them change or amend their plans, with a name change and two date change fees waived for a new travel date up until 31 December 2022. 

‘Where a flight is cancelled, customers are of course entitled to a full cash refund.’ 

Rival airline EasyJet said that it would be offering refunds for those who were staying home.

A spokesperson said: ‘EasyJet plans to fly its current schedule over the coming days, however, following the UK Government’s announcement implementing Tier 4 restrictions which includes advice against travelling abroad, we understand some customers may now need to change their flights.

‘Impacted customers in Tier 4 areas have the option of transferring to an alternative flight free of charge, receiving a voucher or receiving a refund. This policy applies to any flights up until 30 December.

‘All other customers can make changes to their booking without incurring a change fee up to 14 days before departure online via Manage Bookings at easyJet.com.’ 

Which? consumer rights expert Adam French said: ‘These new restrictions will cause massive travel disruption and chaos, leaving many peoples’ festive plans in tatters.

‘If you’ve forked out on money for a train ticket and have to stay put you should be able to cancel the trip and get your money back.

‘Rail operators should be as accommodating as possible by allowing passengers the flexibility to use tickets or issuing them refunds if they can’t travel at another time.’ 

It comes as the scientist whose grim modelling spooked No10 into sending Britain into its first lockdown back in March warned that millions of families face living under draconian Tier Four restrictions until Easter. 

‘Professor Lockdown’ Neil Ferguson, an Imperial College London epidemiologist who quit his role as a Government adviser after breaking rules to see his married lover, today claimed the harshest curbs could ‘possibly’ have to stay until the spring and admitted Britain was now in a race to vaccinate people.  

He warned Britain’s situation was ‘not looking optimistic right now’. It comes after Matt Hancock yesterday warned the Tier 4 restrictions could be extended nationwide, after the Health Secretary said the virus was now ‘out of control’ following the emergence of a fast-spreading new variant.  

It comes after it was revealed yesterday that Professor Ferguson played a major role in researching the variant that triggered the dramatic cancellation of Christmas. 

He was among those attending a meeting of Nervtag – the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group – to discuss the new mutant strain on Friday.

The Imperial expert said it was now a simple race to ‘get vaccines in people’s arms’ because the virus couldn’t be stopped any other way. 

And a colleague of his, infectious diseases expert Professor Wendy Barclay, said it was possible that if the virus mutates enough the immunity produced by vaccines might not work, although there is no proof that this is true of the new strain.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine is being rolled out rapidly but it is complicated because it must be kept in specialist freezers. 

Regulators now face pressure to approve England’s own vaccine made by Oxford University and AstraZeneca – a decision is expected within the next week. 

Another completed vaccine by US company Moderna, which trials showed was 94.5 per cent effective, has been pre-ordered by the UK but won’t be available until the spring.

Dozens of countries have all already banned travel from Britain over fears the mutated strain of coronavirus could spread, with France last night causing chaos over the last minute decision to shut the border. 

Mr Johnson will hold crisis talks with Ministers today as he chairs the Government’s Cobra committee amid warnings of ‘significant disruption’ around the Channel ports in Kent.

QUESTIONS ANSWERED ON NEW COVID MUTATION: HOW DID IT HAPPEN, IS IT MORE DANGEROUS AND HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN IN THE UK?

By David Churchill

What has happened to the coronavirus to trigger such concern?

A new strain of Covid has developed which is said to spread far faster. A ‘strain’ is a new version of a virus which has genetic mutations. The new strain is a version of Sars-Cov-2, the coronavirus which causes the disease Covid-19.

It has been named VUI-202012/01. These letters and numbers stand for ‘variant under investigation’ and the month, December 2020.

What makes it so worrying?

This particular variant is defined by up to 17 changes or mutations in the coronavirus spike protein. It is the combination of some of these changes which scientists believe could make it more infectious.

It is thought they could help the virus’ spike protein latch on to human cells and gain entry more easily.

Is it certain the new variation is accelerating the spread of the virus?

No, but scientists say preliminary evidence suggests it does.

Boris Johnson said it may spread up to 70 per cent more easily than other strains of the virus, potentially driving up the ‘R rate’ – which measures how quickly the virus spreads – significantly.

On Saturday night, Mr Johnson said it could drive up the ‘R rate’ by as much as 0.4.

This would be particularly significant in areas such as Eastern England, where it is 1.4, and both London and the South East, where it is 1.3. The ‘R rate’ must remain below 1 for infections to decrease.

Is the new variant more dangerous?

Scientists don’t think so for now. When asked on Saturday night if it was more lethal than the previous strain, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said ‘the answer seems to be ‘No’, as far as we can tell at the moment’.

Yesterday Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said there was evidence of people with the new variant having higher viral loads inside them.

But she said this did not mean people would get more ill.

Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘It’s unlikely it’ll make people sicker, but it could make it harder to control.’

If it does make the virus harder to control and hospitals become overrun, it could pose new challenges.

Are mutations unusual?

No. Seasonal influenza mutates every year. Variants of Sars-Cov-2 have also been observed in other countries, such as Spain.

However, one scientific paper suggests the number and combination of changes which have occurred in this new variant is potentially ‘unprecedented’.

Most mutations observed to date are thought to have happened more slowly. Also, most changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads.

There are already about 4,000 mutations in the spike protein gene.

What has caused the mutation?

This is still being investigated. One theory is that growing natural immunity in the UK population, which makes it harder for the virus to spread, might have forced it to adapt.

Another theory is that it has developed in chronically ill patients who have fought the virus off over a long period of time, with it then being passed onto others.

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, yesterday said it was ‘plausible’ and ‘highly likely’ this has happened.

However, he stressed it is impossible to prove at the moment.

What evidence is there to support the latter theory?

Some evidence supporting it was spotted when samples of virus were collected from a Cambridge patient. They had been treated with convalescent plasma – blood plasma containing antibodies from a recovered patient.

It is possible the virus mutated during that treatment, developing more resistance to the antibodies. This patient died of the infection, but it’s also possible the mutation has occurred elsewhere.

A paper co-authored by Andrew Rambaut, Professor of Molecular Evolution at the University of Edinburgh, states: ‘If antibody therapy is administered after many weeks of chronic infection, the virus population may be unusually large and genetically diverse…creating suitable circumstances for the rapid fixation of multiple virus genetic changes.’

Professor Hunter added: ‘Mutation in viruses are a random event and the longer someone is infected the more likely a random event is to occur.’

What do these mutations do?

Many occur in what’s called the ‘receptor binding domain’ of the virus’ spike protein. This helps the virus latch on to human cells and gain entry. The mutations make it easier for the virus to bind to human cells’ ACE2 receptors.

It is also possible the changes help the virus avoid human antibodies which would otherwise help fight off infection.

Who detected it?

It was discovered by the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium, which carries out random genetic sequencing of positive covid-19 samples.

It is a consortium of the UK’s four public health agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute and 12 academic institutions.

How long has it been in the UK and where did it start?

As of mid-December, there were more than 1,000 cases in nearly 60 different local authorities, although the true number will be higher.

They have predominantly been found in the south east of England, in Kent and London. It may now account for 60 per cent of the capital’s cases.

But it has been detected elsewhere, including in Wales and Scotland.

The two earliest samples were collected on September 20 in Kent and another the next day in London.

Why was action to tackle it not taken sooner?

Because the potentially greater transmissibility was only discovered late last week by academics.

Has it been detected anywhere else in the world?

One aspect of the new variant, known as a N501Y mutation, was circulating in Australia between June and July, in America in July and in Brazil as far back as April, according to scientists.

It is therefore unclear what role, if any, travellers carrying the virus may have had.

Dr Julian Tang, a Virologist and expert in Respiratory science at the University of Leicester, said: ‘Whether or not these viruses were brought to the UK and Europe later by travellers or arose spontaneously in multiple locations around the world – in response to human host immune selection pressures – requires further investigation.’

Another change, known as the D614G variant, has previously been detected in western Europe and North America. But it is possible that the new variant evolved in the UK.

What can I do to avoid getting the new variant?

The same as always – keeping your distance from people, washing your hands regularly, wearing a mask and abiding by the tier restrictions in your area.

Yesterday Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association, said: ‘The way in which you control the spread of the virus, including this new variant, is exactly the same. It is about continuing stringent measures. The same rules apply.’

Will the new variant reduce the effectiveness of vaccines?

More studies are needed.

Dr Susan Hopkins, of Public Health England, said that until these are carried out scientists cannot be certain whether – and by how much – the new variant reduces the effectiveness of developed vaccines.

She said: ‘The vaccine induces a strong, multiple response, immune response and therefore it is unlikely that this vaccine response is going to be completely gone.’ When mutations happen it is, in theory, possible the antibodies generated by vaccines can be evaded.

But vaccines produce a wide range of antibodies that simultaneously attack the virus from different angles, making it hard for it to evade all of them at once.

Vaccines could also be tweaked to make them more effective if the new mutation does prove to be more resistant to them.

So what are the scientists doing now?

Scientists will be growing the new strain in the lab to see how it responds. This includes looking at whether it produces the same antibody response, how it reacts to the vaccine, and modelling the new strain.

It could take up to two weeks for this process to be complete.

 

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Race to reach home for Christmas: Huge queues at airports with 200 flights cancelled as Spain, Russia and India join list of 43 nations so far to slam door on UK- while Ireland lays on planes to jet citizens home 

Which countries have banned flights from the UK?  

France imposed an inbound travel ban from 11pm last night

Spain will ban all entries from the UK except for Spanish nationals and residents from tomorrow 

Germany, Poland, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Romania, Malta, Croatia, all suspended flights from the UK

Italy blocked all flights from the UK until 6 January

Bulgaria suspending flights from the UK until 31 January 

Netherlands banned all passenger flights from the UK until 1 January

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia banned flights from the UK until 31 January 

Denmark suspended all flights from Britain for 48 hours as of this morning

Norway stopped planes from the UK for two days 

Belgium halted flights and trains from the UK from midnight for at least 24 hours

Greece extended its quarantine period for travellers from the UK from three days to seven 

Portugal says only Portuguese people and residents can arrive from the UK 

In the Republic of Ireland, flights arriving from Britain are banned for 48 hours at least from midnight on Sunday and people have been asked not to ‘travel to Ireland, by air or sea’.

Turkey has temporarily banned all flights from the UK

Canada suspended entry of all flights from the UK for 72 hours

Russia is suspending flights from the UK for one week

India is suspending flights from the UK from midnight on Tuesday until 31 December

Hong Kong, Israel, Iran, Croatia, Morocco and Kuwait brought in restrictions on UK travel

In Latin America, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru all banned flights from the UK

Saudi Arabia has suspended all international flights for one week while Jordan suspended flights from the UK for two weeks

Czech Republic says arrivals who have spent at least 24 hours in UK territory will need to isolate 

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There was chaos at airports across Britain today with more than 30,000 travellers stranded and hundreds of flights cancelled as more countries move to isolate the UK in a bid to contain a mutant strain of coronavirus. 

A growing number of countries are banning flights from the UK in a bid to stop the new Covid variant crossing their borders, sparking panic at terminals across the continent. 

The move has led to queues of people anxiously waiting for Covid tests at Heathrow Airport in west London where more than 80 departures have been grounded so far today – more than half of which are on British Airways – with that number continually rising as more countries ban incoming flights. 

At least 200 flights to Europe have been cancelled, with the routes affected including Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Geneva and Paris and long-haul flights to Russia and India. 

A spokesman for Heathrow told MailOnline that only passengers with a ticket to a destination that has not yet banned UK arrivals will be allowed in the airport. 

The spokesman added: ‘If you don’t have a ticket, or are travelling to a country with an active ban in place, do not come to the airport. We do not want the airport flooded or similar scenes that were seen at St Pancras on Saturday night.’

Heathrow is not testing people arriving in the UK from other countries – because the government has not yet made it a policy. 

The spokesman added: ‘We’ve been pushing for testing since April but still don’t have the go-ahead from the government. As soon as they’re ready to catch up, we are ready to go.’ 

But Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister confirmed the Department of Transport is looking at organising a limited number of flights today and tomorrow to accommodate those who need to return to Ireland for Christmas. 

The news will come as a shot in the arm to Irish residents left stranded in the UK, after the Irish Government issued a 48 hour travel ban on anyone entering the country from the UK. 

British passengers were left stranded in German airports last night and confined in a terminal until they could test negative for Covid-19 after Europe moved to seal off the UK because of its alarming new strain of the disease. 

Nurses in hazmat suits were screening the last arrivals from Britain on Sunday night as furious passengers were told they would have to sleep in the same room and wait until morning to leave the airport. 

The PM will chair a meeting of Cobra this morning after the travel bans spread beyond Europe with Canada, Chile and Argentina also cutting off the UK, although the United States has yet to do so. 

Germany is one of more than a dozen European countries to have closed down flights from the UK, while France has also closed the border to lorries, sparking fears for cross-Channel food supplies – although France said today that it would establish a protocol ‘in the next few hours’ for traffic to resume. 

In Hanover, airport officials set up campbeds for 63 people who arrived from Britain, with one passenger, Manuela Thomys, saying that ‘we are being held against our will’ and another deciding to turn back to the UK. 

‘Please help us leave!’ Thomys said in a video published by Bild, which showed a nine-month-old baby among the stranded passengers who included British and German nationals. 

One passenger called it a ‘scandal’ with others demanding to speak to a lawyer, while similar scenes unfolded in Berlin where 77 people were awaiting test results this morning after arriving from Britain last night.   

A German government source said restrictions on air travel from Britain could be adopted by the entire 27-member EU and that countries were also discussing a joint response over sea, road and rail links. 

Heathrow Airport's terminal 2 was very busy this morning, with passengers queuing to get out of the UK

Heathrow Airport's terminal 2 was very busy this morning, with passengers queuing to get out of the UK

Heathrow Airport’s terminal 2 was very busy this morning, with passengers queuing to get out of the UK

Travellers, one dressed in a Father Christmas outfit and all wearing face coverings, queue with their luggage in the departures hall at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport in west London

Travellers, one dressed in a Father Christmas outfit and all wearing face coverings, queue with their luggage in the departures hall at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport in west London

Travellers, one dressed in a Father Christmas outfit and all wearing face coverings, queue with their luggage in the departures hall at Terminal 2 of Heathrow Airport in west London

As of midnight on Sunday flights from the UK to parts of Europe were banned amid fears over a new strain of coronavirus said to be spread even easier than the Covid-19 strain. Pictured, terminal 2 at Heathrow today

As of midnight on Sunday flights from the UK to parts of Europe were banned amid fears over a new strain of coronavirus said to be spread even easier than the Covid-19 strain. Pictured, terminal 2 at Heathrow today

As of midnight on Sunday flights from the UK to parts of Europe were banned amid fears over a new strain of coronavirus said to be spread even easier than the Covid-19 strain. Pictured, terminal 2 at Heathrow today 

Setting up camp: A woman moves a table in a Hanover airport terminal last night after 63 people arriving from Britain had to stay at the arrivals gate overnight as they awaited test results following Germany's travel ban

Setting up camp: A woman moves a table in a Hanover airport terminal last night after 63 people arriving from Britain had to stay at the arrivals gate overnight as they awaited test results following Germany's travel ban

Setting up camp: A woman moves a table in a Hanover airport terminal last night after 63 people arriving from Britain had to stay at the arrivals gate overnight as they awaited test results following Germany’s travel ban 

A passenger sleeps next to their suitcase in Hanover as dozens of British and German passengers spent a miserable night in the terminal as Europe takes drastic action over the mutant virus strain in the UK

A passenger sleeps next to their suitcase in Hanover as dozens of British and German passengers spent a miserable night in the terminal as Europe takes drastic action over the mutant virus strain in the UK

A passenger sleeps next to their suitcase in Hanover as dozens of British and German passengers spent a miserable night in the terminal as Europe takes drastic action over the mutant virus strain in the UK

More than a dozen European countries have shut down flights from the UK, along with a handful of nations outside Europe 

‘Our aim is to prevent the new variant of the virus from entering the region,’ Hanover health official Andreas Kranz explained to German news wire DPA. 

Ireland has also stopped flights, causing chaos at Heathrow last night as hundreds of people scrambled onto the last flight to Dublin moments before the travel ban took effect.  

Boris Johnson sounded the alarm bell over the new strain of the virus on Saturday, when he put London and much of the South East back into lockdown and drastically scaled back Christmas plans for the rest of England.

The UK’s infection rate has surged by 51 per cent in the space of a week, and Sunday saw a new all-time record of 35,928 cases added to the tally, taking the total to 2.04million.   

Believed to be 70 per cent more transmissible, the new strain has been spreading rapidly in the south of England and has already been detected in Italy and the Netherlands. 

However, Britain’s chief medical adviser Chris Whitty and German health minister Jens Spahn have both said there is no sign that vaccines against Covid-19 will be rendered ineffective by the new strain.  

A spokeswoman for the WHO said that ‘across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.’

Campbeds were set up in the terminal while nurses in hazmat suits were screening the passengers who arrived from Britain

Campbeds were set up in the terminal while nurses in hazmat suits were screening the passengers who arrived from Britain

Campbeds were set up in the terminal while nurses in hazmat suits were screening the passengers who arrived from Britain 

German Red Cross emergency vehicles stand on the tarmac of the Hanover airport late on Sunday after the plane arrived

German Red Cross emergency vehicles stand on the tarmac of the Hanover airport late on Sunday after the plane arrived

German Red Cross emergency vehicles stand on the tarmac of the Hanover airport late on Sunday after the plane arrived 

France imposed an inbound travel ban from 11pm last night amid the spread of the mutant Covid-19 strain which plunged London and the South East into Tier Four.

The ban forced Dover to close to all freight vehicles leaving the UK for 48 hours, plunging the ports into chaos with 23 mile long queues and sparking panic buying across Britain amid fears of a shortage of fresh food and doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

Some 10,000 lorries a day travel through Dover, which accounts for 20 per cent of all goods brought and sold in UK.

The borders are set to reopen with the Port of Dover saying inbound lorries are now coming into the UK and the French government pledging to ‘resume movement’ as soon as possible.

However, the top French haulage union has stoked fears of a driver strike, with an official warning ‘no trucker wants to deliver’ to Britain amid the new strain.

And a Eurotunnel official added that he didn’t expect British lorries to arrive in France until Christmas Eve.

Countries including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Finland and Ireland, as well as several non-European nations, have announced restrictions on UK travel following the outbreak of the new strain across South East England.

France indicated this morning it will open up to lorries from Britain again, but has confusingly demanded drivers register a negative test.

The testing plan has triggered more chaos with a French official saying a PCR test will be used and Macron saying drivers would be tested upon arrival.

A PCR test can take two to three days to come back, suggesting Britain would be required to test the drivers before they leave for France. But, if they are tested upon arrival, it suggests a lateral flow test will be used, which French border authorities could administer and get results for within 15 minutes.

France, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Croatia and Turkey have all moved to stop flights because of the new strain. 

Outside Europe, Canada, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Kuwait, El Salvador, Argentina, Chile and Morocco have all imposed their own travel bans, although the US has not yet made such a move.    

Much of Europe is already in lockdown as high infection rates continue in the Northern Hemisphere winter, when respiratory diseases tend to flourish. 

Germany shut down shops and schools last week after a six-week ‘lockdown light’ failed to suppress the second wave, while the Netherlands is also under a five-week lockdown until January.   

Italy also announced a new regime of restrictions until January 6 that included limits on people leaving their homes more than once a day, closing non-essential shops and curbs on regional travel. 

Hundreds of passengers at London's Heathrow Airport attempted to make the last flight to Dublin before a Covid-19 travel ban set in at midnight

Hundreds of passengers at London's Heathrow Airport attempted to make the last flight to Dublin before a Covid-19 travel ban set in at midnight

Hundreds of passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport attempted to make the last flight to Dublin before a Covid-19 travel ban set in at midnight

Ireland, which has seen its own resurgence in cases, said flights from Britain would be banned for at least 48 hours starting from midnight last night – leading to chaos at Heathrow’s Terminal 5.  

Crowds of people had packed into the terminal for a reportedly overbooked British Airways flight, operated by Aer Lingus, which was scheduled to take off for Dublin just ahead of the ban. 

Passenger Rachael Scully, 23, said 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 on Twitter: ‘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!’ 

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 mutant coronavirus strain. 

One said: ‘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].’ 

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.  

Britain's supermarket shelves may be emptied after France bans British lorries coming into the country for 48 hours following the new Covid-19 super strain. Pictured: Lorries queue to enter the port of Dover in Kent

Britain's supermarket shelves may be emptied after France bans British lorries coming into the country for 48 hours following the new Covid-19 super strain. Pictured: Lorries queue to enter the port of Dover in Kent

Britain’s supermarket shelves may be emptied after France bans British lorries coming into the country for 48 hours following the new Covid-19 super strain. Pictured: Lorries queue to enter the port of Dover in Kent 

A passenger walks through Fiumicino airport, near Rome, Italy, after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks through Fiumicino airport, near Rome, Italy, after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks through Fiumicino airport, near Rome, Italy, after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

Passengers wait at Brussels Airport in Zaventem. Belgium said it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight for 24 hours

Passengers wait at Brussels Airport in Zaventem. Belgium said it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight for 24 hours

Passengers wait at Brussels Airport in Zaventem. Belgium said it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight for 24 hours

It comes amid growing fears for Britain’s supermarket supply chains after France included British lorries in its ban on travel, leading the Port of Dover to close for 48 hours.  

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. 

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 said that the UK-France border will close at 11pm on Sunday, and the last shuttle between the UK and France was at 9.24pm.

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

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.’  

A woman walks with a suitcase through Fiumicino airport, near Rome. Italy is prohibiting entry to the country by anyone who had been in the UK in the last 14 days while flights are banned until January 6

A woman walks with a suitcase through Fiumicino airport, near Rome. Italy is prohibiting entry to the country by anyone who had been in the UK in the last 14 days while flights are banned until January 6

A woman walks with a suitcase through Fiumicino airport, near Rome. Italy is prohibiting entry to the country by anyone who had been in the UK in the last 14 days while flights are banned until January 6

Staff board the last Eurostar train from London to Paris ahead of travel restrictions into France

Staff board the last Eurostar train from London to Paris ahead of travel restrictions into France

Staff board the last Eurostar train from London to Paris ahead of travel restrictions into France 

Commuters at the Gare du Nord Eurostar and Thalys terminals train station in Paris, France.

Commuters at the Gare du Nord Eurostar and Thalys terminals train station in Paris, France.

Commuters at the Gare du Nord Eurostar and Thalys terminals train station in Paris, France. 

Passengers queue for check-in at Gatwick Airport after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night claimed that the new strain of Covid-19 might be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains

Passengers queue for check-in at Gatwick Airport after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night claimed that the new strain of Covid-19 might be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains

Passengers queue for check-in at Gatwick Airport after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night claimed that the new strain of Covid-19 might be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains

Travellers stand in the departure hall of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands on December 17

Travellers stand in the departure hall of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands on December 17

Travellers stand in the departure hall of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands on December 17

Police Scotland will double its presence along border with England with ‘highly visible patrols’ to deter anyone breaching Covid travel ban but senior officers rule out setting up road blocks to enforce new restrictions 

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.

 

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The ban in Germany, which unlike France’s restrictions does not include cargo flights, 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. 

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. 

The PM effectively cancelled Christmas for around 18 million people in southern England, including London, on Saturday 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.   

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.             

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.    

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

Passengers departing for the Christmas holidays amid the second wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at Fiumicino airport, near Rome

Passengers departing for the Christmas holidays amid the second wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at Fiumicino airport, near Rome

Passengers departing for the Christmas holidays amid the second wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at Fiumicino airport, near Rome

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. Pictured: A BA plane at London City Airport in the UK's capital (file photo)

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. Pictured: A BA plane at London City Airport in the UK's capital (file photo)

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. Pictured: A BA plane at London City Airport in the UK’s capital (file photo)

Cars are seen parked at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

Cars are seen parked at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

Cars are seen parked at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger looks at a flight board at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger looks at a flight board at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger looks at a flight board at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

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