America on brink of banning Britons over mutant Covid strain? Calls for US authorities to join 32 nations blocking all visitors from UK as six flights a day continue to cross Atlantic

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for flights from Britain to stop
  • He says six are still arriving every day at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport
  • France, Germany, Italy and Belgium have already announced restrictions
  • US authorities are looking ‘very carefully’ into virus variant spreading in UK

The US could ban travellers from Britain as flights continue to cross the Atlantic Ocean despite major fears over the new coronavirus strain spreading across the UK.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last night called for flights from Britain to stop, saying that six are still arriving every day at John F. Kennedy Airport in the city.

Countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Bulgaria have already announced restrictions on UK travel following the outbreak of the new strain across South East England.

Other countries halting flights arriving from Britain include Canada, Kuwait, Turkey, Morocco, Czech Republic, Slovakia, El Salvador, Romania, Iran, India and Israel.

Further nations following suit are Colombia, Hong Kong, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland and Saudi Arabia.

US authorities have so far said they are looking ‘very carefully’ into the virus variant spreading in the UK, while indicating that a ban on travel was not on the cards.

Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with senior ministers and officials after France banned hauliers carrying freight across the channel amid fears over the new strain.

Foreign countries have banned flights from the UK as an emergency response to the emergence of the mutant coronavirus, which spreads faster than previous strains.

The US currently bars most non-American residents who have been in Europe in the previous 14 days, with the restrictions having been in place since March.

Nearly all of Europe still bans most US travellers from visiting, while Britain allows American visits but requires a two-week quarantine on arrival.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (pictured on Friday) has called for flights from Britain to stop, saying that six are still arriving every day at John F. Kennedy Airport in the city 

Last night, Mr Cuomo called on the US Government to either ban flights or require all passengers to be tested, saying the first wave of Covid-19 infections in New York ‘came from Europe and we did nothing’, adding: ‘Doing nothing is negligent.’

He added: ‘Right now, this variant in the UK is getting on a plane and flying to JFK. Right now. Today. Literally six flights a day. And all it takes is one person.’

Mr Cuomo called the US inaction on the new strain ‘reprehensible’ but Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor to the government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, told CNN that US officials ‘don’t know yet’ if the variant is present in America.

He said: ‘We are, of course… looking very carefully into this,’ including at the National Institutes of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.’

At the moment, he said, no strain of the virus appears to be resistant to the vaccines available. ‘This particular variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity,’ Mr Slaoui added.

Although he admitted that health officials ‘don’t know’ if the mutation is in the US, he noted the success of the vaccines.

‘I don’t think there’s any reason for alarm right now,’ agreed Admiral Brett Giroir, the US official overseeing coronavirus testing, when asked about the new variant on ABC’s The Week.

He emphasised that researchers have noted almost 4,000 different mutations of the coronavirus and said there’s ‘no indication’ that the new variant is ‘overcoming England.’

‘I read the British medical journals this morning, it’s up to 20 per cent of cases in one county, aside from that it is very low and we don’t know that it is more dangerous,’ Mr Giroir said.

Mr Slaoui said: ‘Up to now, I don’t think there has been a single variant that would be resistant to the vaccine. We can’t exclude it, but it’s not there now, and this particular variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to escape vaccine immunity.’

But Mr Cuomo hit back, telling reporters: ‘120 countries demand that before you get on a flight in the UK to come to their country, you have to have tested negative. The United States does not require it.

‘Now, to me this is reprehensible because this is what happened in the spring. How many times in life do you have to make the same mistake before you learn?

‘The Port Authority has no authority to ban passengers, health monitor passengers, it’s federal. Why at a minimum you wouldn’t require a test like the 120 other countries, or why you wouldn’t consider a ban like the other European countries?’

US negotiators reach deal on $900bn Covid-19 relief package 

Capitol Hill negotiators have sealed a deal on an almost 1 trillion dollar Covid-19 economic relief package.

The agreement delivers extra help to businesses and individuals and provides money to deliver vaccines across the US.

The agreement, announced by Senate leaders, would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and $600 direct stimulus payments to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, healthcare providers and renters facing eviction.

The House was expected to vote on the legislation on Monday, said a spokesman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

The House would pass a one-day stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown at midnight on Sunday. The Senate was likely to vote on Monday too.

‘There will be another major rescue package for the American people,’ Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in announcing the agreement for a relief bill that would total almost $900billion.

‘It is packed with targeted policies to help struggling Americans who have already waited too long.’

A breakthrough came late on Saturday in a fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers that was resolved by the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. That led to a final round of negotiations.

The final agreement is the largest spending measure yet. It combines Covid-19 relief with a 1.4 trillion dollar government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education.

Passage is nearing as coronavirus cases and deaths spike and evidence piles up that the economy is struggling.

It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the 1.8 trillion dollar CARES Act passed virtually unanimously in March.

The legislation was held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious last week as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

Asked whether the US was likely to follow the example of European countries that have suspended flights from the United Kingdom, Mr Giroir replied: ‘I really don’t believe we need to do that yet.’

Donald Trump’s surgeon general and President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for the position both have said they don’t see heightened danger from the virus mutation.

‘We don’t even know if it’s really more contagious yet or not, or if it just happened to be a strain that was involved in a super-spreader event,’ Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on ‘Face the Nation’.

‘Right now, we have no indications that it is going to hurt our ability to continue vaccinating people or that it is any more dangerous or deadly than the strains that are out there and we currently know about.’

Dr Vivek Murthy, Mr Biden’s pick for the surgeon general post, echoed Mr Adams’s comments.

‘While it seems to be more easily transmissible, we do not have evidence, yet, that this is more a deadly virus to an individual who acquires it, there’s no reason to believe the vaccines that have been developed will not be effective against this virus as well,’ Dr Murthy said.

Mr Slaoui and Mr Giroir’s comments followed reports on Friday that Mr Trump is considering lifting America’s travel ban on the UK and Europe as early as next week.

Mr Trump is expected to authorize the lifting of the travel ban through an executive order on Tuesday, The Telegraph reported, citing senior sources in the travel industry.

Yet on Sunday a slew of countries banned travel from the UK. Canada announced a ban last night on passenger planes in a notice to pilots.

The restrictions do not apply to cargo planes or planes landing for safety reasons, according to the notice to airmen, which said the move is ‘necessary for aviation safety and the protection of the public.’

In Britain, ahead of a meeting of the Cobra committee today chaired by the Prime Minister, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said emergency measures were being put in place to cope with a backlog of lorries heading for the channel ports.

But he sought to play down the potential impact, stressing that container freight was not hit by the French ban on travellers.

The markets tumbled in response to the escalating coronavirus crisis and the looming prospect of a no-deal Brexit at the end of the transition period on December 31.

More than £33billion was wiped off the FTSE 100 within minutes of opening, as the index dropped more than 2 per cent, although it later recovered to a fall of around 1.4 per cent.

Along with France, countries across the world announced restrictions on UK travel following the disclosure that the highly infectious new strain is widespread across south-east England.

Italian authorities said the mutant strain had been detected in a traveller who recently returned to the country from the UK.

Operation Warp Speed advisor Moncef Slaoui (pictured last month) said yesterday that the US will not follow Europe’s lead with a ban on flights from the United Kingdom 

French health minister Olivier Veran said it was already ‘entirely possible’ the new variant – VUI 202012/01 – was already circulating there, although tests had not detected it.

Panic buying starts as France SHUTS its border putting Britain’s food and vaccine orders at risk just days before Christmas – as truckers are told to avoid Channel ports and closed Kent airport is put on standby to take 4,000 stranded HGVs 

Sainsbury’s has warned of a Christmas food crisis with supplies of green vegetables and citrus fruits at risk amid port chaos after France introduced a new coronavirus travel ban on UK lorries. 

The Port of Dover closed to all freight vehicles leaving the UK for the next 48 hours after France imposed an inbound travel ban from 11pm last night amid the spread of the mutant Covid-19 strain which plunged London and the South East into Tier Four.

Hauliers coming to Britain from France will still be allowed in but there are fears that lorry drivers will not travel to avoid being ‘marooned’ in the UK. Some 10,000 lorries a day travel through Dover, which accounts for 20 per cent of all goods brought and sold in UK 

There are also concerns that the chaos could disrupt supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to the UK which is made in Belgium – with military aircraft set to airlift supplies if the ban lasts for longer than 48 hours. 

The ban has added to several pre-existing issues already gripping the ports, including stockpiling fears over a No-Deal Brexit, increased demand for goods over Christmas and a lack of shipping containers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Shoppers began queueing at supermarkets from 5.50am this morning as people rushed to buy groceries before Christmas amid news of potential shortages. 

And Sainsbury’s warned of several popular items being unavailable over the coming days: If nothing changes, we will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the Continent at this time of year.

‘We hope the UK and French governments can come to a mutually agreeable solution that prioritises the immediate passage of produce and any other food at the ports.’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold crisis talks with Ministers today as he chairs the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee amid warnings of ‘significant disruption’ around the Channel ports in Kent. 

Kent Police implemented Operation Stack to ease congestion, while the Department for Transport said the disused Manston Airport was also being prepared as another contingency measure against the anticipated level of disruption.

Countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, and Bulgaria announced restrictions on UK travel following the outbreak of the new strain across South East England.

French health minister Olivier Veran said on Monday that it was possible the news strain was already circulating in France, although recent tests had not detected it in the country.

‘It is entirely possible that the virus is circulating in France,’ Veran said, after his country introduced the ban on British lorries. 

Among those at the Port of Dover are 80 workers who had travelled down from the West Midlands on a coach to go home for Christmas. They are now stuck for at least next two days and have nowhere to stay, with all hotels closed.  

As well as affecting freight flows from Dover and the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone, the disruption will leave passengers stranded in the run-up to Christmas.

Mr Shapps attempted to calm fears about the wider impact of the French decision.

The Transport Secretary said hauliers were ‘quite used to anticipating disruption’, adding there were variations in supply ‘all the time’.

Mr Shapps said he was talking to French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and told Sky News: ‘The absolute key is to get this resolved as soon as possible.’

Asked if consumers will see shortages in supermarkets, Mr Shapps said: ‘The supply chain is pretty robust in as much as you get variations in supply all the time. For the most part, people won’t notice it.’

He confirmed that the disused Manston Airport in Kent would be used as a lorry park, while Operation Stack – the contingency measures used to queue on the M20 whenever there is disruption at the channel – was already in place.

The Transport Secretary dismissed concerns about the impact of the travel ban on supplies of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is manufactured in Belgium, because container freight was unaffected.

The chief executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), Richard Burnett, said the disruption could cause problems with ‘fresh food supply’ in the run-up to Christmas.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘With it being so close to Christmas we’re looking at 48 hours at this point in time in terms of the restrictions, we’re likely to see Operation Stack building in terms of numbers of vehicles on the UK side and that might be a deterrent for EU hauliers to want to come so close to Christmas and end up being stranded here, that’s part of the challenge that we’re facing today.’

Sainsbury’s warned there could be ‘gaps over the coming days’ in the supply of lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit – all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year.

Mr Johnson faced demands to recall Parliament to address the crisis, which follows the introduction of a new Tier 4 level of lockdown on London and large parts of south-east England.

Concerns about the spread of the new variant also led to the dramatic scaling back of Christmas plans, with mixing banned in Tier 4 and the three-household provision being allowed for just Christmas Day itself in the rest of England.

Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne questioned the timing of the Government’s announcements.

‘They’ve been looking at it since September, and how convenient when Parliament went into recess on Thursday suddenly they were then able to produce this revelation,’ he told Today.

‘Let’s see the evidence then, let’s have Parliament back and show us and convince us – come clean.’

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was ‘imperative’ the UK Government sought an extension to the Brexit transition period, which protects current trading arrangements with the EU until the end of the year.

Among the authorities imposing travel restrictions on passengers from the UK are: France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Denmark, El Salvador, Turkey, Canada and Hong Kong.

They reacted after Mr Johnson announced that the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain while Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted it was ‘out of control’ and the Tier 4 lockdown may have to remain in place for months.

Concerns about the rapid spread of the disease were underlined with the publication of the latest official figures showing there had been a further 35,928 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK as of 9am on Sunday.

And at an emergency meeting late on Sunday night, the Northern Ireland Executive agreed to reduce the five-day Christmas bubbling arrangements to just one day, following the rest of the UK.

Ministers also debated a temporary ban on travel from Great Britain to Northern Ireland because of the new Covid variant, with further discussions expected on Monday.

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