COVID-19: EU tells countries to lift UK travel bans over coronavirus mutation fears

Officials from the European Union warned governments to reverse their decision to scrap transport links with the UK over coronavirus fears, saying that the move could leave millions of European citizens stranded for Christmas

EU countries have been told to lift their travel bans on the UK to allow essential journeys and minimise trade disruption. 

Dozens of countries have blocked people arriving from Britain over fears about the new coronavirus variant that is said to be much more transmittable. 

France has gone a step further by stopping lorry drivers in the UK taking their freight across the Channel, creating chaos on the approach to Dover.

Officials from the European Union warned governments on Tuesday to reverse their decision to scrap transport links with the UK over coronavirus fears, saying that the move could leave millions of European citizens stranded for Christmas. 

Several countries decided to ban planes and trains from entering their territory after the British government said they had discovered a new variant of the coronavirus that is believed to be as much as 70% more infectious. 

Flights to and from the UK were suspended as of Tuesday, except for Maltese citizens and residents returning to the island from Britain, the Health Ministry has said. The announcement came just hours after mandatory quarantine for passengers arriving from the country. Maltese citizens and residents who are currently in the UK will be able to fly back to Malta but will be required to undergo a COVID-19 test on arrival and will then have to spend 14 days in quarantine regardless of the outcome.

The decision is a temporary one and that talks to have a common EU position on the issue remained ongoing. National airline Air Malta later said that its flights to and from the UK would remain operational, but that only Maltese nationals and people with a Maltese residence permit would be allowed onboard, save for exceptions granted by the Superintendence for Public Health.

The proposals from the European Commission come after France and Germany called for a more ‘coordinated’ response to fighting the new variant of coronavirus. 

“Given the need to ensure essential travel and transit home,” the EU executive said in a statement, “Any prohibition of transport services, such as flight or train bans, should be discontinued.” 

The Commission said “non-essential travel” to and from Britain should be discouraged, but it added that European governments need to do more to ensure essential journeys can still be made. 

“Blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes,” said the EU’s Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders. 

But the guidelines are not legally binding. It will be up to EU governments to decide which recommendations they act upon, as, ultimately, it is up to the 27 member states how they decide to control their borders. 

“It is important to take swift temporary precautionary action to limit the further spread of the new strain of the virus and all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged, essential travel and transit of passengers should be facilitated,” the Commission said in a statement. 

“Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions,” it added. 

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