DOVER, England－Europeans on Wednesday began lifting travel bans on Britain put in place to contain a fast-spreading COVID-19 strain in actions that came ahead of talks by World Health Organization experts on the coronavirus variant.
The variant has swept the UK and spurred global panic just as vaccines are being rolled out. But the European Commission on Tuesday urged EU nations to lift travel bans imposed on Britain in recent days.
The new strain appears to spread more easily than other types. But experts say there is no evidence it is more lethal or resistant to vaccines.
The discovery unleashed panic that led to more than two dozen countries suspending flights from the UK, threatening travel chaos during the holiday season.
The European Union instead urged virus tests be carried out on passengers within 72 hours of travel. "Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions," the European Commission said.
The WHO in Europe said its experts were due to meet on Wednesday to discuss how to handle the outbreak, saying "limiting travel to contain spread is prudent until we have better info".
WHO's Europe director Hans Kluge wrote on Twitter that the organization would "discuss strategies for testing, reducing transmission& communicating risks".
France and Britain reopened cross-border travel on Wednesday after a snap 48-hour ban to curb the spread of the virus variant threatened UK supply chains.
Early in the week, much of Europe swiftly banned British travelers and UK freight entering their nations after the discovery of the more variant.
On Tuesday, dramatic images showed hundreds of lorries backed up in Dover, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson facing pressure to resolve the deadlock.
Transportation of goods
Many were in the country to deliver goods to companies who are stockpiling parts before Britain finally leaves the EU on Dec 31, a move that is expected to cause further disruption in January when a full customs border comes into force.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced late on Tuesday that Britain and France had settled on a protocol that "will see the French border reopen to those traveling for urgent reasons, provided they have a certified negative COVID-19 test".
Truck drivers with a recent negative COVID-19 test began arriving in France after Paris lifted the blockade on Wednesday morning.
British Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said around 4,000 trucks may be waiting in the southern county of Kent and urged truckers not to head there until the backlog is cleared. It will take "a few days" to test all the drivers before they can travel to France.
French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri confirmed that air travel, boats and Eurostar trains would be also resuming service.
The Netherlands also said it was lifting its ban beginning on Wednesday but noted that all passengers must have a negative test to enter.
In the nation hardest hit by the virus, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday lashed out at lawmakers over a newly approved $900-billion COVID-19 relief package that includes money for individuals, threatening not to sign the bill if changes are not made to make the stimulus checks more generous.
"The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated," the president said in a video posted on Twitter. "It really is a disgrace," said Trump, arguing that the 5,000-plus-page bill contains many measures that almost have nothing to do with COVID-19.
However, accusing lawmakers of allowing "wasteful spending", the president said the amount of direct payments to individuals is too low, and not enough money is given to small business.