European governments could be given the go-ahead to suspend transport links with Britain under a proposal drawn up by Germany. German Chancellor Mrs Merkel said the bloc would have to prepare a common approach to tackling mutant COVID-19 strains spreading from Britain and South Africa. Speaking ahead of a video conference of European leaders, she said: “We will for the first time, talk to the European heads of government and state about the mutation and we will certainly have the common goal to curb this virus, which means there will need to be special measures, I think they all agree, regarding travel from Great Britain and for example from South Africa, as prompted by Germany.
“And then it will be about how to ensure we can all work towards the common goal together, meaning to bring down the incidence rate, the seven-day incidence.”
EU leaders are set to discuss a joint strategy for tackling the latest wave of the pandemic, including coordinated travel restrictions, vaccine certification and lockdowns.
Mrs Merkel added: “We know the British virus is here, any easing strategy has to be done very carefully.”
A so-called non-paper was drawn up by the German authorities, with support from the Chancellor, to be floated at tonight’s video summit of European leaders.
The document states: “Where member states consider this necessary to protect public health, they are free to impose temporary bans on entry and on transporting passengers entering from non-EU countries with virus variant areas.”
It adds: “Only if member states take joint and co-ordinated action can the virus be contained effectively.
“We see an urgent need to act in order to prevent or at least slow down the spread of worrying virus variants to and within the EU area.”
Any UK travel ban would likely be enforced between mid-March and the end of July.
But it could be cut short as part of a European strategy to reboot the bloc’s tourism industry.
Berlin is keen to avoid a repeat of the cross-Channel trade chaos after French authorities last year closed its border with Britain.
“In all these efforts, essential supply chains and the integrity of the internal market, in particular of cross-border transport of goods and supplies, have to be guaranteed,” the German plan says.
It stresses the need to protect the EU against the “British mutation” and “South African mutation”.
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Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has also expressed concern over the British Covid variant.
His caretaker government have announced the country’s first ever post-war curfew and a ban on flights and ferries arriving from Britain.
Mr Rutte said: “The British variant carries a much higher risk of infection and a much higher risk of hospital and intensive care unit admission.”
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg