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Switzerland bans flights from UK over new coronavirus

Switzerland joins at least ten European countries, including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium, which have said they are taking measures to prevent people arriving from Britain Keystone / Neil Hall

Switzerland has joined other European countries in suspending flights from the United Kingdom and South Africa after reports of a fast-spreading new coronavirus strain.

“Due to the new epidemiological situation in Britain and South Africa, the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (OFAC) has suspended air traffic between Switzerland and these two countries until further notice from midnight Sunday,” the Swiss authorities said on Sunday in a statement.

This emergency decision follows the “emergence of a new variant of coronavirus which, according to initial findings, is significantly more contagious”, it added.

The variant, which officials say is up to 70% more transmissible than the original, has prompted concerns about a wider spread. It has reportedly spread. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that the new strain had led to spiralling infection numbers in the southeast of England.

At least ten European countries, including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium, said they were taking measures to prevent people arriving from Britain, including bans on flights and trains.

France said it would bar all people coming from the UK for 48 hours from Sunday night, including freight carriers, whether by road, air, sea or rail. Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic also announced plans to bar flights from the United Kingdom.

An epidemiologist at the University of Basel, Emma Hodcroft, said on Twitter that the strains in Britain and South Africa were not the same.

‘Highly problematic’

The government’s Covid task force considers the new variant of the coronavirus to be “highly problematic”.

Switzerland is in a risk zone with a health system at the limit of its capacity, it said on Sunday. It pointed out that there are also seasonal factors such as increased mobility during the holiday season, winter sports and greater time spent indoors.

The coronavirus variant has not yet been detected in the sequencing, the task force said. However, this does not mean that the variant is not yet on Swiss territory. In Switzerland, 100 to 300 samples would be sequenced per week, a very small proportion of cases, it said.

The working group explained that if a variant of the virus spread rapidly, contacts would have to be limited drastically in order to reduce the number of cases, interrupt the chains of infection and thus slow the spread.

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