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Ireland brings in restrictions for UK travellers over mutant Covid strain
20 December 2020, 15:18 | Updated: 20 December 2020, 19:18
Ireland will bring in restrictions on flights and ferries coming in from the UK, as Europe tries to stop a mutant strain of coronavirus from spreading across the continent.
The restrictions will come into force from midnight and they will remain in place for an initial period of 48 hours, before being subject to review during Tuesday's Cabinet meeting.
On Sunday evening, a spokesman for Aer Lingus said the airline will not operate flights from the UK to the Republic of Ireland.
In a statement, he said: "Following the announcement by the Irish Government that flights from the UK to the Republic of Ireland are banned for the next 48 hours commencing midnight 20th December 2020, Aer Lingus will not operate flights from the UK to the Republic of Ireland in that period.
"Aer Lingus is operating flights from the Republic of Ireland to the UK in order to facilitate the repatriation of customers to the UK and those with connecting flights in the UK.
"Customers whose flights have been cancelled will be contacted by Aer Lingus directly, and are entitled to a refund, voucher or rerouting at a later date.
"Aer Lingus continues to liaise with the Department of Transport, other Government departments and the relevant authorities as required."
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Earlier, Ireland's Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that party leaders are looking at flights and ferries coming from Britain.
Speaking on The Week on RTE Radio One, Mr Donnelly said that any decision would be confirmed on Sunday.
"I expect the Irish Government will make an announcement later today on travel restrictions," Mr Donnelly said.
"We are worried about it (new strain of coronavirus)."
Elsewhere, it was announced the Netherlands is banning flights from the UK for at least the rest of the year while Italy's foreign minister Luigi Di Maio also announced curbs were being imposed.
Belgium's prime minister issued a ban for at least 24 hours while the situation was assessed and on Sunday afternoon Israel's government banned entry to all non-Israelis flying from the U.K.
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The Netherlands ban came into effect on Sunday morning and the government said it was reacting to tougher measures imposed in London and surrounding areas on Saturday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The Netherlands said it will assess "with other European Union nations the possibilities to contain the import of the virus from the United Kingdom".
Mr Johnson said a fast-moving new variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appears to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England.
"There's no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness," the Prime Minister stressed, or that vaccines will be less effective against it.
The Dutch government is already strongly advising its citizens not to travel unless absolutely necessary.
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Britain 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% 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.
Belgium has also banned flights from the UK and also banned rail connections.
Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said he was issuing the order for 24 hours starting at midnight "out of precaution".
"There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland," he said.
He hoped to have more clarity as of Tuesday.
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Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said his country would also take action.
Mr Di Maio tweeted: "As the Government we have the duty to protect Italians, for this reason, after having advised the English (sic) Government, with the health ministry we are signing the measure to suspend flights with Great Britain."
Austria and the Czech Republic were also imposing new measures against UK flights with Prague announcing stricter quarantine rules with all people arriving in the country having spent at least 24 hours in UK territory required to self-isolate.
Meanwhile, Germany is also considering limiting flights from Britain, the dpa news agency reported on Sunday.
A high-ranking German government official told the agency that restrictions on flights from Britain were a "serious option."
The German government, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, is in close contact with its European neighbours on the developing situation, dpa reported.