With Christmas Canceled Over England COVID Mutation, Dutch Ban UK Flights

Starting Sunday, no flights from the United Kingdom will be allowed into the Netherlands due to a new strain of COVID-19 discovered in Britain. The flight ban was announced shortly after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared a new lockdown.

The ban on U.K. flights will last until January 1 at the earliest and may be extended, according to a statement published Saturday by the Dutch government. The order followed the discovery of a case of the new coronavirus mutation in the country. The case, which was first discovered at the start of December, is being investigated by Dutch health workers, the Dutch government said.

"Pending further information and an explanation of the epidemiological situation in the United Kingdom, [the public health institute] recommends that any introduction of this virus strain from the United Kingdom should be limited as much as possible by limiting or controlling passenger movements," the Dutch government said in a statement, as translated by The Independent. "In the coming days, [the Cabinet] will, in close collaboration with other EU member states, look into the possibilities of further restricting imports of the virus from the United Kingdom."

netherlands flight ban from uk cancel christmas
Starting Sunday, no flights from the United Kingdom will be allowed into the Netherlands due to a new strain of COVID-19 discovered in Britain; the same day Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he would have to cancel Christmas celebrations. iStock/Getty

As of December 13, 1,108 cases of the mutated virus, named VUI-202012/01, had been identified in the U.K., according to The BMJ, the journal published by the British Medical Association. Though the majority of cases were found in southeast England, cases have been reported across the U.K., including in Wales and Scotland. The BMJ says VUI-202012/01 was first discovered in late September, and likely did not come from abroad, evolving in the United Kingdom.

Earlier on Saturday, Johnson announced that the U.K. was going to enter into a new "Tier 4" lockdown, which requires people stay at home except for essential workers. In addition, all non-essential businesses will close. The order also prohibits families from meeting inside on Christmas, limiting socializing to meeting outdoors with just one other person from outside the household.

"It is with a very heavy heart I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned," Johnson said at a news conference. "I sincerely believe there is no alternative open to me."

"I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is, for instance for grandparents to see their grandchildren, for families to be together," Johnson added. "We have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science. When the science changes, we must change our response."

This is a change of course from Wednesday, when Johnson said it would be "frankly inhuman" to cancel Christmas gatherings.

Though Johnson said that the VUI-202012/01 strain was up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original strain of COVID-19, Nick Loman, professor of microbial genomics and bioinformation at the University of Birmingham, told The BMJ he couldn't say for sure that the new strain was causing the recent spike in new COVID-19 cases in the country.

"This variant is strongly associated with where we are seeing increasing rates of covid-19. It's a correlation, but we can't say it is causation. But there is striking growth in this variant, which is why we are worried, and it needs urgent follow-up and investigation," Loman said.

As of Saturday at 9:28 p.m., the U.K. has seen 67,177 deaths from the novel coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. In the Netherlands, 10,546 people have died of COVID-19. The Netherlands has a population of 17.28 million, about a quarter of the population of the U.K with 66.65 million people.