British travellers held at German airports over mutant Covid strain

British travellers including passengers with babies are held at German airports ‘against their will’ and made to sleep in one room together until they test negative for Covid

  • Passengers travelling from Britain to Germany late on Sunday night were left stranded at airport terminals 
  • Germany’s travel ban forced 63 people arriving in Hanover to sleep on campbeds as they awaited test results 
  • More than a dozen European countries have moved to shut down flights from the UK over the new virus strain  
  • Boris Johnson put London and much of the South East back into lockdown because of the new Covid variant   

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. 

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’ while others demanded to speak to a lawyer, while similar scenes unfolded in Berlin where 77 people were awaiting test results this morning after arriving from Britain.   

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

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.  

‘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. 

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. 

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.  

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. 

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 

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

France said last night it was stopping down all travel from Britain for 48 hours, shuttering the Channel Tunnel and the Port of Dover just days before the end of the Brexit transition period. 

French PM Jean Castex’s office said the 48-hour period would offer time to coordinate a joint EU response that would ultimately allow travel from the UK to resume ‘with compulsory testing on departure’. 

The French ban includes ‘goods transport by road, air, sea or rail’, with only unaccompanied containers allowed to cross the Channel. While cargo is allowed into Britain, there are fears that hauliers will not want to come to the UK for fear of being stranded. 

Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Croatia and Turkey have all moved to stop flights from Britain 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

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 

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

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

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. 

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

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.

 

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

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)

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 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

Christmas plans are left in tatters as British Airways and Virgin REFUSE refunds for Tier 4 passengers because they are not cancelling flights with millions forced to rearrange trips as they scramble to get their money back from travel firms 

Christmas plans have been left in tatters amid new Covid curbs as some airlines refuse to refund passengers for trips they can no longer take.  

Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people in London, south-eastern and eastern England as the region was put into a new two-week lockdown from Sunday.

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.

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!’

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 pedestrian walks through an almost deserted concourse at Charing Cross train station in London on December 20

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

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.

Londoners are seen waiting for trains in Euston Station in a last-ditch bid to spend Christmas out of the capital

‘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.’

Last night large numbers of Londoners fled the capital via train to escape the new restrictions just before they became enforceable – but many more are now stuck with tickets for Christmas visits they are now forbidden from using. 

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.’

What are the new Tier 4 rules? 

The Tier 4 rules will be essentially the same as the blanket lockdown that England was under in November. 

Non-essential retail must close, as well as leisure facilities, and personal care such as hairdressers. 

However, places of worship can stay open. 

People in other Tiers will be advised not to go into the highest bracket areas, while residents of Tier 4 must not stay overnight in lower infection spots. 

Restrictions which forced millions of people across the UK to tear up their Christmas plans may have to remain for ‘the next couple of months’, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has suggested.   

‘What is really important is that people not only follow them (the new rules) but everybody in a Tier 4 area acts as if you have the virus to stop spreading it to other people,’ Mr Hancock told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.

Scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) have concluded the VUI 202012/01 mutant strain, identified by the Public Health England laboratories at Porton Down, is spreading more quickly.

The Prime Minister was advised of the group’s conclusions at a meeting with ministers on the Covid O Committee on Friday evening, and the new regulations were signed off by Cabinet before Saturday’s announcement scuppered many people’s plans to see family for Christmas.

‘We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present,’ Mr Hancock said.

‘All of the different measures we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant. That is the fundamental problem.

‘We know that because we know that in November that in the areas where this new variant started, in Kent, the cases carried on rising whereas in the rest of the country the November lockdown worked very effectively.

‘It is an enormous challenge, until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months.’

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.

Scotland and Wales are also restricting Christmas ‘bubbles’ to a single day, while people in Northern Ireland have been asked to consider forming a bubble for Christmas Day only.

Wales has also mirrored the Tier 4 restrictions in England by bringing forward Alert Level 4 measures to Sunday, while Scotland has said its travel ban with the rest of the UK will now remain in place right throughout the festive period.

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 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

The new regulations creating a Tier 4 in England came into force at 7am on Sunday and will be laid before Parliament, which is in recess, on Monday.

The statutory instrument was made at 6am on Sunday, and must be approved by both the House of Commons and House of Lords within 28 days, otherwise the change to the law is reversed as per a process known as the ‘made affirmative procedure’.

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).

At a No 10 news conference on Saturday, Mr Johnson said he was taking the actions with a ‘heavy heart’, but the scientific evidence had left him with no choice.

The announcements prompted a rush to the London train stations and by 7pm on Saturday, there were no tickets available online from several London stations including Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston.

Footage posted on social media showed large crowds at St Pancras station waiting to board trains to Leeds.

The Netherlands is banning flights from the UK for at least the rest of the year in an attempt to make sure the new strain does not reach its shores.

It said it will assess ‘with other European Union nations the possibilities to contain the import of the virus from the United Kingdom’.

The announcements came as a hammer blow to many businesses – particularly retailers hoping to pick up some pre-Christmas sales at the end of a torrid year in which they had faced repeated orders to close.

There was also fury among some Conservative MPs after weeks of growing backbench unrest over the return of more and more stringent controls.

Mark Harper, the leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, demanded the recall of Parliament so MPs could debate and vote on the changes for England.

British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul however welcomed the announcement which, he said, would save lives and help health services cope with ‘incredible demand’. 

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