Chaos in the UK following new travel bans and flight cancellations to slow spread of new coronavirus strain

Dec 20, 2020

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Travel to and from the United Kingdom is screeching to a halt amidst reports of a new strain of the coronavirus.

Several European nations, including Austria and Italy, are banning flights from the United Kingdom beginning Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, according to the Associated Press. Belgium has banned flights for at least 24 hours beginning at midnight and is stopping its train service to Britain. And the Netherlands has halted flights from the U.K. for the rest of the year, if not longer. Germany is “working on” new restrictions as well, and the Czech Republic responded by enforcing stricter quarantine regulations on travelers from the U.K.

Individual airlines are reviewing flight schedules and canceling crew layovers in the U.K., Bloomberg reported on Sunday.

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The bans and regulations come on the heels of new Tier 4 restrictions in parts of England that prohibit travel except for essential reasons. People in areas now considered Tier 4, including London, Kent and Hampshire, among others, are expected to stay home at this time, the Independent reported. Work, school, medical treatment and “compassionate reasons” are considered essential, but leisure travel within your area, abroad or within the U.K. is not acceptable.

A public safety notice that reads, “COVID-19 Rates High, SOS-Tier 4, Stay Safe” in Southend on Sea, England. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

In response, Tui (the largest travel company in Britain) has canceled all flights between Dec. 20 and Dec. 30 departing from London Luton Airport (LTN). For many Britons, the flurry of cancellations effectively spells the end of travel for the year. And travelers with trips to certain areas of England, including the City of London and all of London’s boroughs, will be forced to call off those trips.

Related: Can I travel to England? Everything you need to know about the new quarantine program

Hotels, vacation rental properties, inns, pubs, restaurants cafes and bars in Tier 3 and 4 areas must close, according to the Independent, though there are many exceptions. Takeout, drive-thru and delivery services can continue, for example.

Empty high street in Essex as the area enters Tier 4. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)

Still, most of England is considered Tier 1, 2 and 3 — and residents in these tiers can still transit through airports in Tier 4 areas, including Heathrow, London City and Luton, which remain open and operational. Stansted and Gatwick, according to the Independent are in Tier 2 areas.

Travelers affected by the new spate of cancellations and mandates may not be able to get their money back. According to early reports by Bloomberg, both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic say travelers who cancel their trips may not be eligible for refunds. Travelers should wait until the last possible to minute to see if the airline cancels first, which would trigger a refund. Otherwise, travelers may be forced to rebook or accept a voucher. EasyJet and Tui, on the other hand, are permitting travelers to request refunds.

Related: You can now cancel British Airways bookings for free even if made before the pandemic

The new strain of the coronavirus is thought to be even more contagious, though British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “no evidence” that it is more severe or lethal.

“What we understand is that it does have increased transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead on COVID-19 at the World Health Organization (WHO) told the BBC on Sunday.

Despite efforts from the European Union to isolate the new strain, which the AP said was first identified in southeastern England as early as September, has already been recorded in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.

There have also been widespread reports of “travel chaos” around England and the U.K., with people crowding train stations, airports and roads to escape the new lockdown restrictions. Tickets for trains departing from several major train stations sold out.

Feature photo of travelers waiting for the last train to Paris from St. Pancras station on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images.

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