The Lithuanian government decided to halt all passenger flights from the UK where a new more transmittable strain of the coronavirus has been detected.
The flight ban comes into effect at 4:00 on Monday morning and will be in effect until December 31. This will not affect any scheduled flights from Lithuania to the UK, however, Transport Minister Marius Skuodis said during an emergency cabinet meeting.
Lithuania’s ministers held the meeting on Sunday night in response to reports about a new faster spreading mutation of the coronavirus driving infections in London and south-east England.
Health officials said that there was no evidence the new variant was more deadly or resistant to vaccines, according to the BBC. However, it appears to be up to 70 percent more transmissible.
“It is better to introduce restrictions now and then, once there’s more clarity […], it’s easier to call off the ban than introduce the restriction too late,” Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė told the cabinet.
She noted that Lithuania was coordinating its moves with Latvia and Estonia which were also banning flights from the UK. However, “it is unfortunate that we still haven’t got a European decision”, Šimonytė added.
A number of European countries banned passenger travel from the UK on Sunday, including the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Ireland.
An EU meeting to discuss a coordinated response is planned for Monday.
The UK said the new variant of the coronavirus was identified in mid-October from a sample taken in September, according to the BBC.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the same mutation has also been detected in the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia.
According to Lithuania’s Transport Minister Skuodis, some 7,000 passengers would have come to Lithuania on scheduled flights from the UK over the coming week: 5,000 to Vilnius Airport, 1,700 to Kaunas Airport and 350 to Palanga Airport.
Meanwhile, 3,485 people have flown from the UK to Lithuania since December 14, according to the Interior Ministry.
Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė specified that travellers from the UK already in Lithuania are not under any additional restrictions than the general lockdown rules. Among these is a ban on meeting people from outside one’s household (except outdoors and no more than one) and leaving home for non-essential reasons. Essential reasons include work, providing care, food shopping and taking walks.