Coronavirus: EU urges countries to lift UK travel bans

The European Union’s 27 member states will try to co-ordinate restrictions on links to the UK, after dozens of countries suspended travel amid alarm over a new coronavirus variant.

On Tuesday, the European Commission recommended countries lift restrictions and allow essential travel to resume.

But EU member states are free to set their own rules on border controls and may continue with their own policies.

France and the UK are trying to reach a deal to end disruption in the Channel.

The new variant appears to be more transmissible, but there is no sign it is more deadly.

Almost all EU member states are now blocking travellers from the UK.

The European Commission recommended member states allow people to travel to their country of residence providing they take a Covid-19 test or self-isolate. But it said non-essential travel should be discouraged.

It also said transport staff, such as lorry drivers, should be exempt from all travel restrictions and mandatory testing.

The recommendation will be put to EU ambassadors later on Tuesday and member states will then consider adopting the rules. But despite this, countries are likely to continue with their own policies, the BBC’s Gavin Lee reports from Brussels.

Meanwhile, more than 1,500 lorries are stuck in Kent in south-east England as UK and French leaders try to reach an agreement on reopening the French border. Some countries, such as Spain, Portugal and Hungary, are only allowing their residents to return home.

As the list of countries imposing travel restrictions on the UK grew, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Europe director, Hans Kluge, said member states would convene to discuss strategies and limit travel, while maintaining trade. WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan said new strains were a normal part of the evolution of a pandemic, and that it was not “out of control”, contradicting earlier remarks in the UK from Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

The co-founder of BioNTech, producer with Pfizer of the vaccine now being used in the UK, also voiced optimism. “Scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variant,” Ugur Sahin said. He added that, if needed, a mutation-beating vaccine could be provided within six weeks.

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