Alarmed by reports of new coronavirus strain, nations close doors to Britain.

Britain, struggling to contain an outbreak of what officials said was a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, found itself increasingly isolated from the world on Monday as nations raced to ban travelers from the country, suspending flights and cutting off trade routes.

France imposed a 48-hour suspension of freight transit across the English Channel, leaving thousands of truck drivers stranded in their vehicles on Monday as the roads leading to England’s ports were turned into parking lots. About a quarter of all food eaten in Britain is produced in the European Union. Stocks slid on the news.

Officials were scrambling to come up with emergency measures to keep goods flowing. European Union leaders planned to meet on Monday to devise a “common doctrine” for dealing with the variant’s threat. And Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain was planning to convene the government’s emergency committee.

The French transportation minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, said on Twitter on Monday that France was working to “set up a robust health protocol” enabling traffic leaving Britain to resume but that it was unclear how soon such a solution could be found or how it would work in practice.

The disruption comes at a time of heightened uncertainty, with traffic at the ports already swelling before the Dec. 31 deadline when Britain withdraws from the European Union’s economic zone, the single market and customs union. With time running out, Mr. Johnson and his European counterparts have yet to secure a trade deal as they continue to engage in frantic last-minute negotiations.

The swift action taken by France and other nations around the world reflected the alarm sparked by the British government’s announcement that a new strain of the virus was spreading out of control in London and surrounding areas.

Mr. Johnson, speaking to the nation on Saturday night as he announced draconian restrictions on movement, said that the strain had been shown to be 70 percent more contagious than other variants.

Viral mutations are not uncommon, and British officials said this variant had been detected in a handful of other countries. The estimate of greater transmissibility for the British variant is based on modeling and has not been confirmed by lab experiments, said Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a scientific adviser to the British government.

“Over all, I think we need to have a little bit more experimental data,” she said. “We can’t entirely rule out the fact that some of this transmissibility data might be related to human behavior.”

British officials said there was no reason to believe that the new variant caused more serious illness.

Even with so much about the strain uncertain — including how widely it was already circulating around the world — nations wasted no time in seeking to essentially quarantine England.

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland Italy and the Netherlands all announced restrictions on travel within hours of Mr. Johnson’s speech. Poland said it would suspend flights between the two countries starting Monday night.

Beyond the European Union, Canada, Hong Kong, Iran and Israel were among the places issuing their own restrictions.

In the United States, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York urged the federal government to take action, saying that “right now, this variant in the U.K. is getting on a plane and flying to J.F.K.,” while also acknowledging that it may be too late. The State Department said that its travel advisory for Britain remained unchanged at Level 3.

Officials in India were among the few voices urging calm.

“If you ask me, there is no reason for such panic,” the Indian health minister, Harsh Vardhan, said at a news briefing in New Delhi. “Don’t entangle yourself in this imaginary situation, imaginary talk, imaginary panic.”

But only a short time later, the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation announced that it would suspend all flights from Britain until Dec. 31.

Source: Read Full Article