Covid 19, International News

‘Sick man of Europe’: UK cut off over fears about new COVID strain

London: The United Kingdom was recently shut off from the rest of Europe after its closest allies cut transport ties due to fears about a new coronavirus strain, sowing chaos for families and companies just days before it exits the European Union’s orbit.

France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Israel and Canada were among those that shut off travel ties after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that a highly infectious new strain of the virus was a danger to the country.

Johnson will chair an emergency response meeting on Monday to discuss international travel, in particular the flow of freight in and out of Britain. EU officials are due to hold a meeting at 1000 GMT on coordinating their response.

France shut its border to arrivals of people and trucks from the United Kingdom, closing off one of the most important trade arteries with mainland Europe, a step Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said was surprising.

“We’re doing everything we can to get that restarted,” Shapps told Sky. “They’ve said to us they want to restart the hauliers as quickly as possible.”

As families and truck drivers tried to navigate the travel bans to get back home in time for Christmas, there were fears that fresh food supplies to and from Europe would be disrupted though supermarkets have enough to cope with festive demand for now.

Shellfish producers in Scotland said they had tonnes of perishable product stranded on roads as the French border was closed. Disruption in Britain will also snarl supplies to Ireland.

Hong Kong is also due to ban all flights arriving from the United Kingdom from midnight, becoming the first city in Asia to do so. Asian nations including Japan and South Korea said they were closely monitoring the new strain.

The pound fell more than 2 cents to $1.3279 and the FTSE 100 fell 2% at the open, with travel companies such as British Airways-owner IAG tumbling 15%. The yield on 2-year UK gilts hit a record low.

‘Sick man of Europe’

Trucks are being stacked on the M20 motorway through Kent, heading towards the ports, which is closed to normal traffic. A nearby airport will also be used to hold freight.

“Sick Man of Europe”, the Daily Mirror newspaper said on its front page beside a picture of Johnson while the Sun newspaper said “French show no merci”.

The closure of the Channel Tunnel and ports for onward travel to France will affect the export of goods such as fish and shell fish from Scotland to Europe, and the import of food for British supermarkets if, as expected, European drivers refuse to travel.

Trucks have been told to avoid Kent to prevent any further build up of trucks.

“The closure of France to UK traffic, including accompanied freight poses difficulties for UK capacity to import and export key goods during the busy Christmas period,” said Andrew Opie, director of food & sustainability at the British Retail Consortium.

“While goods can enter from France, few haulage firms will be willing to send trucks and drivers across to the UK without a guarantee they can return to the EU in a timely manner.”

-Courtesy by Reuters

December 21, 2020

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