Middle East countries ban UK travel over fears of mutant virus

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran and Israel are among the Middle East countries to announce flight bans over fears of the new virus crisis.
Monday 21/12/2020
Travellers wearing face masks walk with their luggage in the almost deserted departures hall at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in west London on December 21, 2020. (AFP)
Travellers wearing face masks walk with their luggage in the almost deserted departures hall at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in west London on December 21, 2020. (AFP)

RIYADH--With Britons already locked down for Christmas due to an “out of control” coronavirus strain, the sense of isolation deepened when a growing list of countries, including across the Middle East, imposed travel bans.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran and Israel are among the Middle East countries to announce flight bans over fears of the mutant virus.

Stricter measures were adopted by Saudi Arabia and Oman that halted international flights and closed their borders for a week over fears about the fast-spreading new strain of the coronavirus.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said the kingdom may extend the suspension for another week depending on the nature of the virus’s spread. Oman halted passenger traffic through its air, land and sea ports for a week starting Tuesday, but freight services are exempt from the ban.

Kuwait, too, has added Britain to a list of “high-risk” nations and banned flights.

Morocco, for its part, said it will suspend air travel with the UK starting Sunday night, also citing fears of the new coronavirus strain.

Morocco had allowed some flights to resume linking tourist hubs Agadir and Marrakech with London, in a bid to save its hard-hit tourism sector.

On Sunday, Morocco reported a total of 417,125 coronavirus infections, including 6,957 deaths and 32,014 active cases.

Turkey’s Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said that flights from Britain, Denmark — where nine cases of the new strain have been detected — the Netherlands and South Africa would be suspended.

Iran’s health ministry also ordered flights from Britain suspended for two weeks.

A medical worker collects a swab sample in the COVID-19 testing centre at Duesseldorf Airport, as EU countries impose a travel ban from the UK. (AFP)
A medical worker collects a swab sample in the COVID-19 testing centre at Duesseldorf Airport, as EU countries impose a travel ban from the UK. (AFP)

Israel, for its part, said it was barring entry to foreign citizens travelling from Britain, Denmark and South Africa.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office also announced tough quarantine rules for Israelis returning home from those nations.

Britain hoped to have turned a corner in its attempt to quell the virus, with the rollout of a vaccine and falling case rates.

But the emergence of a new strain has thrown the government’s plans into disarray.

The government had initially announced restrictions would be eased to allow families to meet over Christmas, but changed its plans after it was presented last week with dire analysis of the new strain that is running rampant across south-east England.

Instead of good cheer and reunions, Britons are now waking up to headlines about potential food shortages and rows with their closest neighbours.

“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News.

Britain has been badly hit by the pandemic, with more than 67,000 deaths of those testing positive for the virus.