Urgent talks are underway in Brussels this morning to agree an EU-wide response to contain the new mutant strain – with the requirement for Britons to prove they are coronavirus free before flying among the options being discussed.
Spain had wanted a unanimous European decision on restrictions, but no agreement was reached by last night, prompting Madrid to act alone. It will still allow its own citizens to return home, as will Portugal and Hungary.
France is leading attempts to reach a unanimous agreement among the bloc’s 27 members to avoid individual countries adopting their own unilateral restrictions, but reports suggest the latter is currently the most likely outcome.
Emanuel Macron was the first EU leader to ban travellers from the UK on Sunday, putting in place a 48-hour embargo on all travel. This included freight lorries at Dover, causing disruption to cross-Channel trade – including fresh food supplies.
Other EU countries quickly halted UK flights, as data suggested the new variant could be 70% more infectious. Dozens of countries around the world followed Europe’s lead – but the US is allowing British visitors with a negative Covid test.
People queue to enter the departures area at Heathrow Airport in chaotic scenes yesterday
The EU Commission is expected to announce the outcome of its talks today, but it is likely that no united solution will be reached and each member state will continue deciding their own restrictions, the BBC reported, citing official sources.
‘It’s important that a halt to entries or a flight ban can’t be circumvented via other European Union member countries,’ German foreign minister Heiko Maas told journalists yesterday.
Dozens of countries outside Europe have also blocked flights from Britain, including Canada, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and Argentina.
Hundreds of flights from UK airports were grounded today, with a spokesman for Heathrow telling MailOnline that only passengers with a ticket to a destination that has not yet banned UK arrivals will be allowed in the airport.
Countries reacted after Mr Johnson announced on Saturday that the new variant was up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain as he put London and parts of the South East and East of England into a two-week Christmas lockdown, with nearly 18 million people in a new Tier 4.
Which countries have banned flights from the UK?
All flights from UK banned –
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden.
UK travellers allowed with a negative test –
Still allowing own nationals to enter –
Greece, Portugal, Spain.
REST OF EUROPE
All flights from UK banned –
Norway, Switzerland, Turkey,
REST OF THE WORLD
All flights from UK banned –
Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Iran, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan.
UK travellers allowed with a negative test –
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the new variant coronavirus was ‘out of control’ and said the new restrictions may have to remain in place for months.
Concerns about the rapid spread of the disease were underlined with the publication of the latest official figures showing there had been a further 35,928 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Sunday.
Millions of people have been forced to tear up their festive plans, with Mr Johnson effectively cancelling Christmas for those in Tier 4.
Heathrow was seen 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.
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!’
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].’
Large queues of people trying to travel to the EU yesterday as travel bans came into force
It comes as talks continued between Britain and France to end President Macron’s ban on freight travelling to Europe from Dover, with the French leader expected to announce his plan to allow trade to continue today.
Cross-Channel shipping lanes and the Channel Tunnel were closed on Sunday night after the identification of the new Covid-19 strain in the UK. The 48 hour closure is due to end at tonight at 11pm UK-time.
The French government has pledged to ‘resume movement’ as soon as possible, with the Port of Dover saying inbound lorries are now coming into the UK.
But a row is today emerging between Britain and France over how to end the blockage, with testing at the border the preferred option. How and where to test lorry drivers crossing the Channel is thought to be a sticking point in the talks.
Meanwhile, lorry drivers waiting to cross the border now fear missing Christmas with their families. One French lorry driver currently stuck in Dover said: ‘We known nothing, we don’t know if we can get home to see our families for Christmas.’
Hopes that negative tests could allow air passengers to travel to Europe were boosted yesterday when a coalition of airlines agreed to test all passengers for Covid prior to boarding UK flights for New York.
Southend Airport also unveiled its own not-for-profit testing site this week, although it is not clear if there is enough capacity across all British airports to support testing for all passengers travelling to Europe.
Passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport attempted to make the last flight to Dublin last night before the Covid-19 travel ban
New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that British Airways and Delta Airlines had agreed to implement pre-boarding testing following the emergence of a highly contagious mutant strain of coronavirus in the UK.
Mr Cuomo said: ‘When you do not require flights from the UK to be tested, you are allowing thousands of UK passengers to arrive here every day and, based on New York’s experience in the spring, I believe this new, highly contagious strain of Covid-19 is already here.
‘This is another disaster waiting to happen and all efforts must be placed into averting another crisis.’
A Virgin Atlantic spokesman later confirmed the airline had also agreed to commence pre-flight testing, saying the measures would be in place for all customers travelling from London to the US from Thursday, December 24.
Second night of chaos at Dover as now 1,500 lorries fill side streets and laybys with drivers facing Christmas Day stuck in their cabs waiting to cross The Channel to Europe
By Danny Hussain for MailOnline
Dover is facing another day of chaos with up to 1,500 lorries now filling the motorway, side streets and laybys in the Kent town and drivers facing the prospect of being stuck in their cabs on Christmas Day after France banned travel from the UK.
Emergency talks are ongoing between Paris and London this morning in a bid to end the cross-Channel blockage, with Emmanuel Macron expected to announce his plan to end the travel ban later today. Boris Johnson last night made a personal appeal to the French president to lift the shutters to the continent.
France announced a travel ban on arrivals from the UK on Sunday night after the identification of a new Covid-19 strain in the south east of England. The 48 hour closure is due to end at 11pm UK-time today.
However, the chaos is set to continue for several more days with a row emerging between Britain and France over how to open the border.
Testing is the preferred option but there is a disconnect between the UK and France on the form this will take.
France favours the slower PCR tests which can take up to three days to return with a result and can cost more than £180.
Today Highways England warned the chaos around the port of Dover could last for days. Hundreds of lorries are currently waiting to cross the English Channel when it reopens. The highways authority has today urged hauliers not to drive to the border.
Paris also wants the testing to be carried out before an individual arrives on French soil.
This would put the cost of the programme on the UK and, with the inherent delay that comes with PCR tests, mean that delays at the border could last past Christmas, confining drivers to their lorries over the festive period.
France would also require arrivals to have some kind of certificate proclaiming their negative test result.
The UK, on the other hand, wants to use a rapid lateral flow test which can return a positive or negative result within 15 minutes.
However, even if this quicker method is used, the testing programme could cause logistical chaos with potentially 6,000 drivers a day needing to be screened.
Around two thirds of these drivers use the port of Dover and a third the Eurotunnel.
The row has left lorry drivers worrying about missing Christmas with their families. One French lorry driver currently stuck in Dover said: ‘We known nothing, we don’t know if we can get home to see our families for Christmas.’
Today Highways England warned the chaos around the Kent port could last for days. Hundreds of lorries are currently waiting to cross the English Channel when it reopens.
The highways authority has urged hauliers not to drive to the border. Traffic measures Operation Stack and Operation Brock have been activated in a bid to calm the chaos.
After a pointless press conference on Monday evening, Boris Johnson (pictured left) is said to be drawing up plans to send extra testing capacity to the Port of Dover in a bid to end chaos brought about by France’s travel ban. Emmanuel Macron (pictured right) is expected to announce his plan to end the travel ban later
Home Secretary Priti Patel today said the Government was ‘working to get a resolution’ as talks continued with France on reopening full trade and transport across the Channel.
She told Sky News: ‘We’re working to get a resolution, I think that’s really important to put this into context.
‘It’s in both our interests, both countries to ensure that we have flow and of course there are European hauliers right now who want to be going home and quite frankly it’s in both our interests to carry on those discussions and negotiations and we will see what materialises today.’
Discussing the testing farce, she said: ‘Discussions about the type of testing will take place between the transport secretaries, both here and in Paris so I can’t speculate on the type of testing that will be used.
‘But it is quite clear, I mean we ask passengers to take tests before they get on planes, it is quite clear now that mass testing and testing is the way forward so we will find proactive and productive ways in which if we have to introduce testing to make sure that happens and I think that will provide assurance and security all around.’
Ms Patel initially refused to be drawn on the number of lorries currently waiting at the border. But she later told BBC Radio 4 that there were 650 lorries on the M20 and 873 at nearby Manston Airport.
The total figure could be as high as 1,500 lorries, some say, with lorries now parked along the seafront at Dover.
Highways England yesterday estimated the total number of lorries to be almost 1,000 on the M20 alone.
As the crossing crisis continued, British food experts urged shoppers not to panic ahead of Christmas, saying there will be ‘plenty of food’.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Just to be clear, there’s certainly not a problem for Christmas.
‘There’s plenty of food in the supply chain and in the stores at the moment, so nobody needs to be worried about food for Christmas dinners – there’s plenty of food for everybody and we can all shop normally.’
But he warned there could be issues after Christmas, saying: ‘There is a problem potentially directly after Christmas and that is really in fresh produce, so we’re talking here about things like salad, vegetables, fresh fruit, of which the vast majority come from Europe at this time.
PCR vs Lateral flow tests: More chaos as Britain and France clash over type of testing used for truckers
The French government is demanding that any travellers from the UK, including truckers, take PCR tests before arriving in the country, which can take up to three days to return a result.
The UK, on the other hand, favours faster tests which are not lab based and give a result within 15 minutes.
These rapid coronavirus tests, known as lateral flow tests, are ones that can be done on the spot using portable equipment.
They are faster and cheaper than lab-based PCR tests, which the government uses to diagnose people, but are less accurate.
In a lateral flow test a swab is used to get a sample from the person’s nose or throat and it is then processed in a small machine that tries to detect the coronavirus by mixing the sample with something the virus would react with.
If there is a reaction in the mixture it suggests that the person is carrying coronavirus. If not, they get a negative result. This process can be completed in as little as 15 minutes.
These lateral flow tests differ from the gold standard PCR test – known scientifically as polymerase chain reaction testing.
PCR tests also use a swab but this is then processed using high-tech laboratory equipment to analyse the genetic sequence of the sample to see if any of it matches the genes of coronavirus.
This is a much more long-winded and expensive process, involving multiple types of trained staff, and the analysis process can take hours, with the whole process from swab to someone receiving their result taking days.
It is significantly more accurate, however. In ideal conditions the tests are almost 100 per cent accurate at spotting the virus, although this may be more like 70 per cent in the real world.
This compares to a much lower sensitivity in lateral flow tests, with a trial of one type used in Liverpool suggesting they miss around 50 per cent of the people who would test positive with PCR.
Extreme accuracy may be a drawback for PCR now that so many people have been infected, however, with the tests able to detect shreds of the virus in people who recovered weeks ago and are no longer infectious, which may lead them to have to self-isolate unnecessarily.
Lateral flow tests are more likely to miss people who are carrying the virus but, experts say, do have value as a way of weeding out people carrying large amounts of the virus and therefore most likely to be spreading the disease.
‘Our view is as long as it can be cleared up today, there’ll be minimal impact for consumers.
‘Remember the shops are shut on Christmas Day, which takes one day of buying out of the equation, but those lorries that are stuck in Kent, they do need to get back within the next day.’
It comes as last night, the Prime Minister blustered his way through a pointless press conference, where he was unable to answer most of the questions put to him about the French travel ban.
He also made a personal appeal for the French President to lift the ban.
But as an agreement failed to materialise, the Government is said to be working on increasing testing capacity in Kent should Macron refuse back down.
A Government source told The Telegraph: ‘Testing is time-consuming and sets a precedent for post-transition. We are trying to avoid it, but we are doing the work to get testing capacity and the infrastructure down to Kent in case we need it.’
Last night Labour said any spare testing capacity should be used to help end the chaos at Dover. Shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves insisted ministers needed to stop ‘dithering’ and take decisive action to deal with the ‘chaos’ at the UK border.
Ms Reeves insisted the Government should urgently direct mobile testing centres and spare testing capacity to ports.
The shadow cabinet member said that Government figures show unused testing capacity is around 300,000 tests per day.
And that over December on average, it only used 50 per cent of its testing capacity.
Ms Reeves said that with some 6,000 freight drivers passing through the border per day, ‘the UK’s capacity is more than enough to have daily tests at ports’.
The Department of Transport could not shed any light on the situation, saying it could not comment on whether testing would be rolled-out until a deal with France had been reached.
But Jean Marc Puissesseau, president of the Port of Calais, today backed plans for testing. He told BBC Radio 4: ‘I think something should happen with this test, which should be put in force as soon as possible so they can come back. But in Calais it is very quiet.’
Last night there were 920 lorries parked on the M20, with Operation Brock closing the carriageway for miles. Nearby lorry parks in Kent are also filling up.
France yesterday indicated it will open up to lorries from Britain again, but demanded drivers register a negative test.
Mr Macron confirmed authorities could demand ‘PCR tests are presented as being negative upon the arrival on (French) territory.’
A PCR test can take two to three days to come back, suggesting drivers would be required to get tested in the UK before they leave for France.
It would also mean that people trying to get to France from Britain would need to present some form of certificate to get into the country. It is unclear what will happen if someone arrives at the border without proof of a negative test.
The Road Haulage Association said it was ‘anyone’s guess,’ how a programme of testing at the border could be rolled out.
Paul Mummery, spokesman for the RHA told MailOnline: ‘Until we can understand what that process looks like, it’s difficult to gauge whether freight can start running again.
‘This is something they will want to do very, very quickly, but what that looks like is anyone’s guess.’
The French government has pledged to ‘resume movement’ as soon as possible, with the Port of Dover saying inbound lorries are now coming into the UK