EU countries could introduce travel bans under plans being considered on Thursday to combat the spread of new strains of the Covid-19 virus.
The European council will meet on Thursday evening to discuss proposals put forward by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, that would allow countries to introduce bans on all forms of transport for citizens from EU countries as well those from outside the EU, including the UK.
Mrs Merkel wants the EU to take a co-ordinated response to the threat posed by the emergence of new, highly infectious Covid variants, one of which emerged in the UK, with others from Brazil and South Africa.
On Wednesday night, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, announced that flights and ferries from the UK will be banned from Saturday, with the same restrictions imposed on South Africa and South American countries.
Under the German proposals, the EU would bar all passengers from outside the EU, including Britons, unless they have a negative Covid test result less than 48 hours before departure. There would only be “narrowly defined” exceptions from quarantine for people working in the passenger or goods transport sector and health workers.
Under an “additional option”, individual EU countries would be “free to impose further-reaching temporary bans on entry and on transporting passengers entering from third countries with virus variant areas” where it was deemed necessary to protect public health.
Although the bans would be time-limited, they would “possibly [be] applicable also to EU citizens and persons with a right of residence in the EU”, according to the document seen by The Telegraph.
The draconian measures demonstrate the depth of concern among EU leaders at the risk from the new variants, the failure to so far bring the pandemic under control and the slow rollout of vaccines in most European countries.
It comes as UK ministers are expected to consider similar measures at a Covid Operational Cabinet committee meeting on Friday, including the introduction of Australian and New Zealand style quarantine hotels where arrivals would be held until they had completed their 10-day isolation.
Government officials have been in talks with hotel chains about following the Antipodean model, under which travellers have to pay a portion of the cost of quarantining or living in “managed isolation” centres.
The moves come on top of tightening of border controls announced last week by Boris Johnson, with the closure of quarantine-free travel corridors from 63 countries, requiring all arrivals to self-isolate for up to 10 days unless they have negative test on the fifth day.
On Monday, new rules also came into force requiring all passengers arriving in the UK to have a negative Covid test from within 72 hours of departure.
Travellers who fail to provide an appropriate negative test result face fines of £500, while airlines that bring people into the UK without the negative swabs face fines of £2,000 per passenger.
Paul Lincoln, the director general of the Border Force, revealed that half of the 21,000 people who arrived in the UK on Monday had their passenger locator forms and test results checked. Forty fines were issued.