Spain, Portugal to ban UK flights as new COVID-19 strain spreads

2020-12-21 21:35:38 GMT2020-12-22 05:35:38(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

MADRID, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- The Spanish and Portuguese governments have joined other European nations in suspending incoming flights from the United Kingdom (UK) following the detection of a new variant of the coronavirus, which is thought to be around 70 percent more transmissible than previous strains.

According to a communique published on Twitter on Monday afternoon, "The government of Spain, together with Portugal, will suspend from tomorrow (Tuesday) the entry into the Spanish territory of citizens from the United Kingdom, except nationals or residents in our country."

The communique added: "Border control in Gibraltar (the British Overseas Territory on Spain's south coast) will also be strengthened."

A case of the new coronavirus strain has already been identified in Gibraltar, the UK government has confirmed. Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said on RAC1 radio that no cases of the strain have so far been found in Spain.

Before Spain and Portugal, a number of other European countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Romania, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Lithuania and Denmark have imposed restrictions on travel from the UK.

The latest development followed a Downing Street virtual press conference on Saturday, during which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned of a mutation of the virus which has quickly spread across London and the southeast of England.

According to Johnson, the new strain of the virus may be up to 70 percent more transmissible and infectious than the original strains. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that the new variant was "out of control".

The UK government's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance has said the new variant was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent. By December, the new variant had become the "dominant variant" in London, he said.

By the week ending Dec. 9, the new variant accounted for 62 percent in London, 59 percent in eastern England, and 43 percent in the South East, according to Vallance.

As the world is struggling to contain the pandemic, countries including France, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States are racing to find a vaccine.

According to the website of the World Health Organization, as of Dec. 16, there were 222 COVID-19 candidate vaccines being developed worldwide, and 56 of them were in clinical trials. Enditem