LONDON, United Kingdom — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was to chair a crisis meeting Monday as a growing number of countries blocked flights from the country over a new highly infectious coronavirus strain the UK said was “out of control.”
The World Health Organization also called for stronger containment measures across Europe, which has passed 500,000 deaths from COVID-19.
In London, Johnson called the COBR emergencies committee meeting to “discuss the situation regarding international travel, in particular the steady flow of freight into and out of the UK,” a spokesman said.
More than a dozen European nations have already banned flights and travelers from Britain, with more expected to take action. Israel has also banned foreign citizens from entering the country if they arrive from Britain, South Africa or Denmark, three countries where different mutations have been detected.
Health authorities in Britain’s former colonial territory Hong Kong said UK flights would be banned from Tuesday.
Crucial transit country France moved to block people and goods crossing the Channel, while the Netherlands said passengers arriving by ferry would be denied entry.
The ban on all but unaccompanied freight crossing to France comes as companies scramble to shift merchandise with days to go until Britain finally quits European Union trade structures in the wake of Brexit.
Late Sunday, Britain’s critical south coast port at Dover said it was closing to all accompanied freight and passengers due to the French border restrictions “until further notice.”
Alarm bells were ringing across Europe as the new, even more infectious strain of the virus appeared to be raging in parts of Britain.
A WHO spokeswoman told AFP that “across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.”
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.
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel held a conference call on Sunday about the matter, Macron’s office said.
Later Sunday, bans on flights from Britain were imposed in the Americas, including by Canada, Chile and Argentina.
US officials, however, signaled they were holding off on the move for now, while Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was confident existing 14-day quarantine rules for arrivals were sufficient to handle the threat.
Despite growing concerns about the new strain, EU experts believe it will not impact the effectiveness of existing vaccines, Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said.
The assessment was shared by Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty.
Johnson said the infectiousness of the new strain had forced him into locking down much of England over the Christmas period.
“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News.
Scientists first discovered the new variant — which they believe is 70 percent more transmissible — in a patient in September. Public Health England notified the government on Friday when modeling revealed its full seriousness.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.