European Union offers isolated Britain a lifeline for closing the border with coronavirus

BRUSSELS – The European Union executive gave Britain a life guard on Tuesday after she was trapped in the isolation of Covid-19, recommending that EU members reduce border closures to allow freight to be resumed and people returned home for Christmas.

Much of the world closed its borders with Britain after a mutant variant of the coronavirus was discovered spreading rapidly across southern England, disrupting a piece of trade with the rest of Europe and leaving truck drivers stranded.

With lines of trucks snaking on the horizon in Kent, England, and supermarket shelves empty just days before Christmas, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought for French President Emmanuel Macron to lift Britain’s freight ban.

Johnson and his aides said the mutant variant of the virus, which could be up to 70% more transmissible, is spreading rapidly, but has been identified because British scientists are efficient at genomic surveillance.

The European Commission has warned that non-essential round-trip travel to Britain should be discouraged, but said that people returning home should be allowed to do so, provided they are subjected to a Covid-19 test or quarantine. for 10 days.

“Travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes,” said European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders in a statement.

The recommendations were designed to establish common rules within the EU and ambassadors will consider adopting them on Tuesday. However, border controls are governed by national policy, so each EU country can have its own rules.

One option is to implement mass tests of Covid-19 for truck drivers, although these tests generally take 24 to 48 hours for a result, so it was unclear how quickly the trucks could be moving again, with Christmas coming.

The discovery of the new strain, just a few months before vaccines were widely available, sowed a new wave of panic in a pandemic that killed more than 67,000 in Britain.

Scientists say there is no evidence that vaccines currently in use in the UK – made by Pfizer and BioNTech – or other Covid-19 vaccines in development do not protect against this variant, known as strain B.1.1.7.

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The UK is in effective quarantine from Covid-19 just nine days before finally leaving the EU after a period of transition – considered one of the biggest changes in British post-World War II history.

Countries across Europe and beyond have halted travel from Britain since the weekend. Germany imposed a ban on travelers from the UK as of Tuesday, which may remain in effect until January 6. Cases of the new strain have also been detected in some other countries, including Denmark and Italy.

Closing the border has caused headaches across Europe, especially those trying to transport perishable food.

As of January 1, with the end of the Brexit transition period, only essential travel would be allowed from Britain, unless Britain was added to an EU “safe country” list, which is currently composed of only eight countries.

This limitation does not apply to UK citizens residing in the EU or to EU citizens residing in Great Britain.