EU countries block travel due to UK COVID strain

Several European countries have shut their doors to Britain due to concerns over a new rapidly spreading coronavirus strain.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday (December 19) that the new virus strain had led to spiraling infection numbers.

That prompted Belgium to announce that it was closing its borders to trains and planes coming from the UK, and the Netherlands to suspend flights.

Italy says it's planning a similar ban and a German Health Ministry official said restrictions could be imposed on flights from Britain and South Africa, which has also detected a new coronavirus strain.

Austria is also reportedly planning to ban flights.

Spain said, in light of the moves by other countries, it was asking the European Commission and European Council for a coordinated response otherwise, it would act unilaterally to defend its interests and citizens.

On Saturday, Johnson imposed a new Tier 4 level of tougher restrictions on more than 16 million people in England and abruptly abandoned plans to allow three households to mix indoors over the festive period less than a week before Christmas.

Immediately after the announcement, there was a dash to train stations and people tried to travel home before restrictions came into force.

On Sunday (December 20), the city was eerily quiet; places like Covent Garden, normally heaving with visitors and shoppers, left empty.

Those who could be found in the streets of London, like Brad Nichols, expressed the view that it was the right decision but that the government had left it too late.

"Yeah, I'm pretty upset about it. I think the lack of planning and lack of ability to tell people that this is going to happen in advance of what it did caused a lot of havoc and confusion."

Health minister Matt Hancock said the decision to impose the restrictions had been taken "speedily" and he condemned crowding at train stations as "irresponsible".