Two more countries have banned incoming UK flights ahead of Christmas Eve after the identification of a new Covid strain in Britain.
Singapore will ban entry to UK travellers from Wednesday night. Health officials in the Philippines say they will also suspend flights from the UK from Christmas Eve, until December 31.
It brings the total number of countries restricting entry to UK travellers to 55.
The latest bans could have a wider impact on UK travellers, with Singapore in particular a popular stop-off for those flying from London to Australia.
Singapore health officials say transit from the UK through the Southeast Asian city-state will also be banned.
The ministry of health website said: ‘All long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to the UK within the last 14 days will not be allowed entry into Singapore, or transit through Singapore.
‘This will also apply to all those who had obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.’
Transit through the Philippines for UK travellers is also banned.
It comes after Greece and Cyprus both said they will require passengers from the UK to have three separate Covid tests to gain entry to stem the spread of a mutant strain of the virus – while all other EU member states have slammed their doors on Britain.
Singapore (pictured: Passengers at Jewel Changi airport in Singapore) will ban entry to UK travellers from Wednesday night. Health officials in the Philippines have also announced plans to suspend flights from the UK from Christmas Eve.
Both nations require evidence of a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test prior to arrival, followed by a rapid lateral test after landing and then a third after a period of self-isolation.
PCR tests need to be processed in a lab, while lateral flow tests can deliver results in 15 minutes but are less accurate.
This is particularly the case when people administer the test themselves, as they often do not push the swab deep enough to get enough of a sample.
Tough new measures adopted by Greece and Cyprus
Evidence of a negative PCR test before arrival;
Rapid lateral flow test on arrival followed by 10 days of self-isolation;
A second PCR test afterwards.
Evidence of a negative PCR test before arrival;
PCR on arrival, followed by seven days in self-isolation;
Greece and Cyprus are the only EU members not to have imposed blanket bans on UK travellers.
Today the European Commission advised all other 25 states to lift their embargo on trains, planes and lorries from Britain to avoid further disruption.
However, as the Commission’s statement is only advisory, individual countries still have the option of continuing with their own blanket bans.
European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said: ‘Given the current uncertainties and in light of the precautionary principle, member states should take co-ordinated action to discourage non-essential travel between the UK and the EU.
‘At the same time, blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes.
‘While precautions are needed to contain the spread of the new coronavirus variant, with today’s recommendation, we therefore ensure that the restrictions are co-ordinated and provide for the necessary exemptions for citizens and residents returning home and other essential travellers.’
EU Transport Commissioner Adina Valean added: ‘Within the EU, it is crucial that transport workers are exempted from any restrictive measures, as quarantine and testing.’
Emanuel Macron was the first EU leader to ban travellers from the UK on Sunday, putting in place a 48-hour embargo on all travel. This included freight lorries at Dover, causing disruption to cross-Channel trade – including fresh food supplies.
Other EU countries quickly halted UK flights, as data suggested the new variant could be 70% more infectious. Dozens of countries around the world followed Europe’s lead – but the US is allowing British visitors with a negative Covid test.
People queue to enter the departures area at Heathrow Airport in chaotic scenes yesterday
Which countries have banned flights from the UK?
All flights from UK banned –
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden.
UK travellers allowed with a negative test –
Cyprus, Greece – three negative tests required plus self-isolation.
Still allowing own nationals to enter –
Hungary, Portugal, Spain.
REST OF EUROPE
All flights from UK banned –
Norway, Switzerland, Turkey,
REST OF THE WORLD
All flights from UK banned –
Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Iran, Jamaica, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Philippines and Singapore.
UK travellers allowed with a negative test –
The EU Commission announced the outcome of its talks early this afternoon, after countries including France and Germany had repeatedly called for a united approach across the whole bloc.
Countries closed their doors to Britain after Mr Johnson announced on Saturday that the new variant was up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original strain as he put London and parts of the South East and East of England into a two-week Christmas lockdown, with nearly 18 million people in a new Tier 4.
Dozens of nations outside Europe have also blocked flights from Britain, including Canada, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia and Argentina.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the new variant coronavirus was ‘out of control’ and said the new restrictions may have to remain in place for months.
Concerns about the rapid spread of the disease were underlined with the publication of the latest official figures showing there had been a further 35,928 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Sunday.
Millions of people have been forced to tear up their festive plans, with Mr Johnson effectively cancelling Christmas for those in Tier 4.
The Europe-wide flight ban was evident at Heathrow’s Terminal Two where just two flights to the Continent had been listed on the departure board.
With more than 40 countries banning UK visitors over fears of the fast-spreading mutant strain of Covid 19 a morning and afternoon flight to the Portuguese capital Lisbon was the only European destination still open to travellers.
But even those flights were closed to UK tourists with only Portuguese nationals allowed on to board.
Passengers also had to present paperwork to show they had a negative Covid 19 test before they could check their bags.
The scenes of chaos with hundreds of people desperately trying to leave Heathrow before European countries closed their borders had given way to business as usual for staff.
Large queues of people trying to travel to the EU yesterday as travel bans came into force
Passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport attempted to make the last flight to Dublin last night before the Covid-19 travel ban
PCR vs lateral flow Covid tests: Chaos as UK and France clash over type of testing used for truckers
The French government is demanding that any travellers from the UK, including truckers, take PCR tests before arriving in the country, which can take up to three days to return a result.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PCR TEST AND A LATERAL FLOW?
A PCR test can cost upwards of £180 per person, with the swab needing to be processed in a lab.
The UK, on the other hand, favours faster tests which are not lab based and give a result within 15 minutes.
These rapid coronavirus tests, known as lateral flow tests, are ones that can be done on the spot using portable equipment.
They are faster and cheaper than lab-based PCR tests, which the government uses to diagnose people, but are less accurate.
LATERAL FLOW TESTS ARE RAPID – BUT CAN SACRIFICE ACCURACY
In a lateral flow test a swab is used to get a sample from the person’s nose or throat and it is then processed in a small machine that tries to detect the coronavirus by mixing the sample with something the virus would react with.
If there is a reaction in the mixture it suggests that the person is carrying coronavirus. If not, they get a negative result. This process can be completed in as little as 15 minutes.
You take your own swab though a professional on site processes it through the machine.
However, as the swabs are often taken by people themselves, the accuracy of the test could be hampered as they may not push the swab deep enough to get enough of a sample.
Results from trials have varied wildly and show the tests perform better when the swabs are done by trained medics and worse when people do them themselves.
PCR TESTS CAN TAKE SEVERAL DAYS TO GET RESULTS – BUT ARE MORE ACCURATE
These lateral flow tests differ from the gold standard PCR test – known scientifically as polymerase chain reaction testing.
PCR tests also use a swab but this is then processed using high-tech laboratory equipment to analyse the genetic sequence of the sample to see if any of it matches the genes of coronavirus.
This is a much more long-winded and expensive process, involving multiple types of trained staff, and the analysis process can take hours, with the whole process from swab to someone receiving their result taking days.
It is significantly more accurate, however. In ideal conditions the tests are almost 100 per cent accurate at spotting the virus, although this may be more like 70 per cent in the real world.
This compares to a much lower sensitivity in lateral flow tests, with a trial of one type used in Liverpool suggesting they miss around 50 per cent of the people who would test positive with PCR.
SO, WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF LATERAL FLOW TESTING?
Extreme accuracy may be a drawback for PCR now that so many people have been infected, however, with the tests able to detect shreds of the virus in people who recovered weeks ago and are no longer infectious, which may lead them to have to self-isolate unnecessarily.
Lateral flow tests are more likely to miss people who are carrying the virus but, experts say, do have value as a way of weeding out people carrying large amounts of the virus and therefore most likely to be spreading the disease.
All airlines had contacted passengers to inform them their flights were cancelled and not to turn up at the airport.
The only queues were at the Emirates Airline check in desk with more than 300 people waiting patiently in line to fly to Dubai.
Many families were in the long line as airline staff checked passports and paperwork to prove they had undergone a nose and throat PCR swab test for Covid 19 and returned a negative result.
Mother-of-two Alison Chambers was heading for a Christmas break with her two sons and husband.
She said: ‘I don’t mind how long I have to queue up, I’m just grateful that we can still get away. Fortunately, Dubai is still accepting tourists provided they have had a negative test. It is such a relief.’
Another passenger added:’ Given what is happening in this country I feel very luck to be leaving. ‘
The departure boards at Terminal Two told the story of the Europe wide flight ban with the words ‘cancelled’ or check with airline’ alongside destinations such as Nice, Paris and Zurich.
Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines and Delta were still operating transatlantic flights to the US.
Only US citizens and holders of a green card, or permanent residents, have been allowed to travel since the start of the Pandemic.
Despite the Governor of New York calling for all flights from the UK to be banned from landing at JFK airport Virgin operated their morning flight as usual.
Staff at the check in said passengers were not asked to present a negative Covid test, but a member of staff said:’ That is for now. It is changing all the time.’
US citizens returning the New York have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
Passengers on a Virgin flights to Los Angeles, Delta to Atlanta and a United flight to Washington DC were not required to have undergone a test before boarding.
Other airlines operating out of Terminal Two, such as Middle Eastern Airlines, required negative tests before passengers were allowed to check in and pass-through security.
At Terminal 5, the home of British Airways, all passengers on the two flights to New York’s JFK Airport had to have undergone a test to show they were not carrying the virus.
Those who had not previously had a test were able to book a short notice PCR swab test for £99.00. Results were delivered within 80 minutes.
A saliva test was also available as well as an antigen test to show if a passenger had previously had the virus and developed antibodies.
Passengers on other BA flights to the US, including Miami, Florida and Dallas in Texas were not required to have had any test.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had demanded that flights from the UK be halted – but had his request rejected by the federal government.
British Airways and Delta voluntarily agreed that passengers on their flights would be tested prior to departure.
Virgin will insist on a test from Christmas Eve and the rule will apply to code share airline Delta.
The on-site test for BA passengers was being operated by a private firm called Collinson.
The company were also operating a test centre on the ground floor at Terminal Two where a small queue had formed by mid-morning.
Many of those waiting for an appointment were taking part in the recently launched ‘test to release’ scheme which allowed visitors to quarantine for only five days instead of the 14 days imposed by the Government.
A British Airways spokesman said:’ We have agreed to pre-departure testing for passengers on flights from the UK to New York from December 22nd in line with the request. We continue to work closely with local health authorities around the world.’
The French government has pledged to ‘resume movement’ as soon as possible, with the Port of Dover saying inbound lorries are now coming into the UK
After a pointless press conference on Monday evening, Boris Johnson (pictured left) is said to be drawing up plans to send extra testing capacity to the Port of Dover in a bid to end chaos brought about by France’s travel ban. Emmanuel Macron (pictured right) is expected to announce his plan to end the travel ban later
Boris Johnson ‘is convinced Macron imposed ban to pile on pressure over Brexit’
Downing Street was ‘incandescent’ when France announced its UK travel ban on Sunday night and is convinced Emmanuel Macron is trying to use the crisis to force Britain to cave in during Brexit trade talks, it was claimed today.
Number 10 yesterday publicly dismissed suggestions that there may be a Brexit element to Mr Macron’s decision to ban all traffic and travellers from Britain because of the new mutant strain of coronavirus.
But privately officials and ministers are said to believe Mr Macron is at least in part motivated by a desire to pile the pressure on the UK as trade negotiations go down to the wire.
A transport industry source told The Times that officials in Number 10 were ‘incandescent’ when the ban was announced and that they were caught off guard because they thought it would only apply to passengers and not to freight as well.
Meanwhile, Kent has been turned into a giant car park today with up to 1,500 lorries now filling the motorway, side streets and laybys in Dover – as No10 sources accuse Paris of using the travel ban to strong-arm Brexit talks and trapped French drivers slam Emmanuel Macron for ‘abandoning them in a foreign country’.
France announced a travel ban on arrivals from the UK on Sunday night after the identification of a new Covid-19 strain in the south east of England. More than 1,500 lorries are now backed up in Kent, unable to make the crossing, leaving drivers spending a second night sleeping in their cabs.
Photos show 873 lorries parked at the disused Manston Airfield – which was previously reserved for a No Deal Brexit.
The 48 hour closure is due to end at 11pm UK time tonight but it has triggered a raft of similar moves with more than 40 countries banning flights from the UK.
The controversial ban has now come under fire with Boris Johnson said to be convinced French President Macron is using the crisis to force Britain to cave in during Brexit trade talks.
Though Downing Street publicly insists the port crisis is nothing to do with Brexit, officials and ministers are privately convinced Macron is in part motivated by a desire to pile the pressure on the UK as trade negotiations go down to the wire.
The French ban caught the UK government completely by surprise, it has been claimed, something Transport Minister Grant Shapps alluded to yesterday when he described the move as ‘slightly surprising’.