Travel Chaos in UK as Europeans Suspend Flights
The UK plunged into Christmas chaos with police deployed to stop people boarding packed trains, holidays abroad scrapped and Europe banning travel with the country after London went into an emergency lockdown.
In a sudden turnaround, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled plans to allow families to see each other over the festive period as the government warned that a new strain of the coronavirus is “out of control." There were scenes of panic at train stations, with people defying social-distancing rules to get out of the capital before the new rules took effect on Sunday.
More than 16 million Britons are now required to stay at home after new restrictions came into force Sunday in London and southeast England. The measures ban household mixing in the capital and the southeast, and restrict socializing to just Christmas Day across the rest of England.
France and Germany are considering joining Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium in banning air and train links with the UK, which is in the middle of delicate and critical Brexit negotiations with its partners in the European Union. The talks were expected to reach a breakthrough as soon as this weekend.
“A lot of people are trying to escape before midnight so that they can see their families."
For many Britons, either trying to see relatives or trying to go on a winter vacation, the situation is reminiscent of the last nationwide lockdown and will stoke fears that even with a vaccine the virus is still dangerous, if not as deadly. It is also but the latest U-turn from a government that has been reluctant to impose limits to movement, unless forced. Until Friday, Johnson was adamant that close households would be able to mix over Christmas.
While London’s Heathrow airport was crowded Sunday morning as dozens of planes departed, an 11:45 am. KLM service to Amsterdam left empty, according to a spokeswoman for the hub, while two later British Airways flights to the Dutch city showed as canceled. Most other operations were shown to be on schedule.
The bans are very concerning, the spokeswoman said. Heathrow has just had one of its busiest weeks since the first U.K. lockdown as people caught flights in the run up to Christmas, and there are large numbers still due to travel, she added.
A spokesman for Schiphol airport in Amsterdam said planes arriving from London on Sunday were essentially empty. Deutsche Lufthansa AG has canceled crew layovers in the UK and is weighing further actions, a spokesman said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that more British Transport Police will be dispatched to stop people taking unnecessary journeys out of London.
“Please do not come to a station unless you are permitted to travel," Shapps said in a statement. “Extra British Transport Police officers are being deployed to ensure only those who need to take essential journeys can travel safely," he said after videos of people fleeing the capital spread on social media.
London’s Metropolitan Police are also increasing patrols, prioritizing high footfall parts of the capital as well as areas where the virus is spreading rapidly, it said on a statement. “At this critical moment for the city, officers across London will pay particular attention to those groups who have willfully ignored the rules, putting communities and lives at risk," it said.
Officers are deployed across airports “as part of routine security and policing," a Met Police spokesperson said.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News presenter Sophy Ridge earlier this morning that it is more important than ever that people are responsible and not only stick to the rules but restrict all social contact as much as is possible because “this is deadly serious."/Livemint.com
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