LONDON — Trucks waiting to get out of Britain are backing up for miles and people are stranded at airports as many countries impose stringent travel restrictions over concerns about a new strain of the coronavirus that authorities say may spread more easily.
A growing number of countries are halting air travel from the U.K., including Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Italy, and others are considering restrictions, like Sweden, South Africa and Hong Kong.
Meanwhile France has banned trucks from the country for a period of 48 hours while the new variant is assessed.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the strain is “out of control” around London and southeastern England — but experts have urged caution, saying it’s not clear if it’s more lethal.
In an urgent message Saturday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson closed all non-essential shops, hairdressers, gyms, and pools, and told his country they would have to rethink their holiday plans.
He said the new strain appears to be 70% more transmissible than existing strains, and British experts believe this strain is causing the explosive surge in cases in the UK. However, he added "there's no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness," or that vaccines will be less effective.
The World Health Organization and health experts from around the world are researching the new strain, and working to identify what makes it different.
On Sunday, COVID-19 testing czar Admiral Brett Giroir told ABC's "This Week" that he doesn't believe a travel ban is necessary at this time. He said health officials around the world have seen almost 4,000 mutations of the coronavirus and there is "no indication" the UK's variant is "overcoming England."
"I don't think there should be any reason for alarm right now," Giroir said.
Areas that are in the country's top tier, tier 4, which include London and parts of the southeast section of the country, can only get together with their own household and only essential travel is permitted.
Johnson also cut back a proposed "Christmas bubble" plan which would have allowed people in the UK to spend up to five days with another household. That has been changed to one day, and only in areas not in the tier 4 restrictions.
There were rising hopes Monday that France would allow traffic to flow again, if truck drivers take coronavirus tests on arrival.