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A growing list of European Union countries and Canada have banned travel from the UK and others are considering similar action, in a bid to block a new strain of coronavirus sweeping southern England from spreading to the mainland.

France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and Bulgaria announced travel restrictions to the UK, hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England should be canceled due to the rapid spread of infections attributed to the new variant of coronavirus.

Johnson immediately placed those regions under a new, stringent Level 4 restriction, which changed the Christmas plans of millions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announces level four restrictions for London and the South East. (Getty)

France has banned all travel from the UK for 48 hours starting at midnight Sunday, including trucks carrying goods through the Channel Tunnel or from the port of Dover on the south coast of England.

French officials said the pause would buy time to find a “common doctrine” on how to deal with the threat, but it threw the busy canal crossing used by thousands of trucks a day into chaos.

The Port of Dover tweeted that its ferry terminal was “closed to all accompanied traffic leaving the UK until further notice due to border restrictions in France.”

Eurostar passenger trains from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were also stopped.

Germany said that all flights from Britain, except cargo flights, could no longer land after midnight on Sunday.

He did not immediately say how long the flight ban would last.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said he was banning flights for 24 hours starting at midnight “as a precaution.”

“There are many questions about this new mutation,” he said, adding that he hoped to have more clarity by tomorrow.

Canada announced its own ban on Sunday night.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that for 72 hours from midnight Sunday, “all flights from the UK will be barred from entering Canada.”

He added that travelers arriving on Sunday would be subject to secondary examinations and other health measures.

A government follow-up statement said cargo flights were not included in the ban.

A woman pulls a suitcase past the Christmas tree in the lobby of Waterloo Station in central London. Millions of people in England have learned that they must cancel their Christmas gatherings and Christmas shopping trips. (AP)

Meanwhile, the Central American nation of El Salvador said it would refuse entry to anyone who has visited Britain in the previous 30 days.

The British government said Johnson would chair a meeting of the government’s crisis committee, COBRA, today following actions by other nations.

They come at a time of great economic uncertainty for the UK, less than two weeks before it leaves the EU’s economic structures on December 31, and with talks about a new post-Brexit trade relationship still stalled.

Johnson said on Saturday that a new, fast-moving variant of the virus that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread of new infections in London and southern England in recent weeks.

But he emphasized that “there is no evidence to suggest that it is more lethal or causes a more serious disease,” or that vaccines will be less effective against it.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock added to the alarm when he said that “the new variant is out of control.”

The UK had 35,928 more confirmed cases, about double the number from a week ago.

Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, today called a special crisis meeting to coordinate the response to the news about the virus among the 27 member states of the bloc.

The Netherlands banned flights from the UK for at least the rest of the year. Ireland issued a 48-hour flight ban. Italy said it would block flights from the UK until January 6, and an order signed Sunday bars anyone who has been to the UK in the past 14 days from entering Italy.

The Czech Republic imposed stricter quarantine measures on people arriving from Great Britain.

Beyond Europe, Israel also said it was banning flights from Britain, Denmark and South Africa because those were the countries where the mutation is found.

The World Health Organization tweeted on Saturday night that it was “in close contact with UK officials about the new variant of the # COVID19 virus” and promised to update governments and the public as more becomes known.

The new strain was identified in south-east England in September and has been spreading in the area ever since, a WHO official told the BBC on Sunday.

“What we understand is that it has a higher transmissibility, in terms of its ability to spread,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19.

Studies are underway to better understand how fast it spreads and whether “it is related to the variant itself or a combination of factors to behavior,” he added.

He said the strain had also been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia, where there was one case that did not spread further.

“The more this virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change,” he said.

“So we really need to do everything we can right now to prevent the spread.”

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands of different mutations among samples of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Many of these changes do not affect how easily the virus spreads or the severity of symptoms.

British health authorities said that while the variant has been circulating since September, it wasn’t until last week that officials felt they had enough evidence to declare that it has higher transmissibility than other circulating coronaviruses.

Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said officials are concerned about the new variant because it contains 23 different changes, “an unusually large number of variants” that affect how the virus attaches itself to cells in the body. and enters them.

Officials are not sure if it originated in the UK, Vallance added.

But in December, it said it was causing more than 60 percent of infections in London.

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