Countries across the globe shut their borders to Britain on Monday due to fears about a highly infectious new coronavirus strain, causing travel chaos and raising the prospect of food shortages days before Britain is set to leave the European Union.
India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Jordan and Hong Kong suspended travel for Britons after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a mutated variant of the virus had been identified in the country. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely.
Several other nations blocked travel from Britain over the weekend, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium and Canada – although experts said the strain may already be circulating in countries with less advanced detection methods than the United Kingdom.
France shut its border to arrivals of people and trucks from Britain, closing off one of the most important trade arteries with mainland Europe.
Trucks backed up for miles on the highway leading to the port of Dover, Britain’s main trade gateway with the continent and thousands of Europe-bound drivers were stranded.
“My chances of going home for Christmas are going down. It’s stupid and I am nervous and unhappy about that,” said Stanislaw Olbrich, a 55-year-old Polish trucker stuck 24 miles (40 km) north of Dover.
The discovery of the new strain, just months before vaccines are expected to be widely available, sowed new panic in a pandemic that has killed about 1.7 million people worldwide and more than 67,000 in Britain.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the U.S. government to take steps to prevent the variant entering the United States, which has been worst hit by COVID-19 with almost 318,000 deaths.
“It’s high time the federal government takes swift action, because today that variant is getting on a plane and landing in JFK, and all it takes is one person,” he said.