A new, more infectious strain of the COVID-19 virus forced multiple governments worldwide to impose temporal flight bans to and out of the United Kingdom (UK).
On December 21, 2020, more than 25 European and non-European countries announced air travel restrictions due to the spread of a new virus mutation in the UK. The scientists counted that a new strain of the COVID-19, found in the UK, could be up to 70% more infectious than the already known variant of the virus.
The Netherlands was the first country in Europe to suspend all flights carrying travelers from and to the UK from December 20, 2020. A day after, on December 21, 2020, several other European countries as well as a part of North and South American countries, African countries, and a part of the Middle East region decided to follow the Netherlands decision and banned all the UK routes.
According to multiple sources, the list of the countries which implemented the temporal ban to stop the spread of the new COVID-19 virus mutation includes such countries as Austria, Argentina, Bulgaria, Belgium, Colombia, Canada, Chile, Czechia, El Salvador, Denmark, France, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
Other governments are considering implementing the ban or other restrictions depending on the situation development shortly. However, the United Arab Emirates, unlike other countries of the Middle East, has not made yet any announcements regarding suspensions for the UK operations. The country was added to the UK’s air travel corridor list from November 12, 2020.
None of the two major UAE air carriers, namely Emirates airline and Etihad Airways, have made changes to their flight schedules between Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the UK. Following the currently active agreement regarding the air travel corridor, travelers flying to the UK out of the UAE do not need to self-isolate for 14 days, but they must spend at least 14 days in the country to qualify for the quarantine exemption.
Unlike the UAE, Saudi Arabia decided to strengthen the restrictions and in addition to the air travel termination, the government of the country banned its land and sea ports from the citizens of the UK, empowering the suspensions from December 20, 2020. The Interior Ministry of Saudi Arabia told local media that the restrictions could be extended every week until the spread of new mutation in the UK would be taken under control.
Some European Union members halted the operations to the UK for several days while waiting for further the EU decision which will be set after the meeting on December 21, 2020. However, other countries including Bulgaria, Chile, Estonia, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands took more strict measures immediately and banned the air operations at least until January 31 or even until January 5, 2021, depending on the country.
On December 19, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that a new mutation of the virus is believed to spread more rapidly than the previous version, but is doubted to be more deadly. Speaking to BBC, Catherine Smallwood, the Senior Emergency Officer for Europe at WHO, said that one case of the new mutation found in the UK was also reported in the Netherlands as well as in Australia, meanwhile nine cases were recorded in Denmark.