BRUSSELS: On Tuesday, the European Commission urged EU nations to lift Britain’s travel bans to avoid the spread of a form of coronavirus that has swept the UK and spurred global alarm just as vaccinations are being carried out worldwide.
According to scientists, the latest version of the virus, which has also been observed in limited numbers elsewhere, seems to spread more quickly than other varieties, although there is little proof that it is more dangerous or vaccine-resistant.
Nevertheless, its discovery has increased concerns that have prompted more than two dozen countries around the world to cancel flights from the UK out of caution.
With bans unleashing travel havoc over the holiday season, the EU Executive Arm of the European Commission proposed relaxing border controls with Britain, recommending virus checks to be performed on travellers within 72 hours of flying.
Flight and train bans should be discontinued, considering the need to ensure critical transport and to prevent interruption of the supply chain,’ said the EU Executive’s comment.
Since Britain announced the discovery of the new strain of coronavirus, several EU member states are among those enforcing flight, train and ferry bans on UK arrivals.
“In the run-up to Christmas, the ban on arrivals in France led to long tailbacks of freight trucks in southern England and disrupted passenger travel. The World Health Organization in Europe said it would also convene its members to discuss how to deal with the outbreak and warned that “limiting travel to control spread is careful before we have more details.
In a Twitter post, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said the company will “discuss strategies for testing, reducing transmission and communicating risks.” The death toll from the virus reached 1.7 million worldwide on Tuesday, with the largest number of regular deaths recorded in the US, Germany and Russia, according to a survey. On Tuesday, Germany extended its ban on arrivals from the UK until January 6, as well as from South Africa, where a related version has been discovered.
Germany wants to keep “potentially dangerous virus mutations from spreading to continental Europe,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said, “as long as possible.”
The closing of the border comes as the European Union is planning to begin carrying out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Sunday, after parallel UK and US vaccination initiatives.
BioNTech’s co-founder said Tuesday it was “highly likely” that its coronavirus vaccine acts against the mutated strain detected in Britain.
And if not, the vaccine should be modified within six weeks, said Ugur Sahin, adding that the version is still undergoing testing.
78-year-old President-elect Joe Biden received a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine live on television in the US, the world’s worst-affected nation, to raise Americans’ confidence in the shots.
Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, got his Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday along with other senior officials and six health staff at a live streamed event at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).