Heathrow chaos as hundreds try to cram onto last flight to Dublin


Hundreds of passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport scrambled onto the last flight to Dublin before a Covid-19 travel ban sets in at midnight in Ireland as France has banned British lorries and the EuroTunnel is set to close.

Crowds of people packed into Heathrow Terminal 5 to await updates of the reportedly overbooked British Airways flight operated by Aer Lingus which was scheduled to take off at 8.55pm to Dublin.  

Ireland has imposed a temporary 48-hour travel ban on non-essential flights from Britain which comes into force at midnight and includes passengers on flights and ferries. 

Passenger Rachael Scully, 23, tweeted that the Irish Government eventually gave the ‘green light’ for the flight which was set to leave at 10:30pm and due to land with 15 minutes to spare before the travel ban at midnight.

Hundreds of passengers at London’s Heathrow Airport attempted to make the last flight to Dublin before a Covid-19 travel ban set in at midnight

A British Airways spokesman told MailOnline: 'Our teams looked after customers while we urgently looked into alternative arrangements to get them on their way to Dublin as quickly as possible'

A British Airways spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Our teams looked after customers while we urgently looked into alternative arrangements to get them on their way to Dublin as quickly as possible’ 

She wrote: ‘Irish gov have given the green light and we’ve been processed for a BA flight. Due to land at 23:45. Woops of joy once the news got out. A Christmas miracle! [sic]’   

A British Airways spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Our teams looked after customers while we urgently looked into alternative arrangements to get them on their way to Dublin as quickly as possible.’   

However some Irish people tweeted the stranded Heathrow passengers to urge them to stay put following the discovery of the ’70 per cent more infectious’ mutant coronavirus strain which plunged London and the south east into Tier Four.  

Crowds of people packed into Heathrow Terminal 5 to await updates of the reportedly overbooked Aer Lingus flight which was scheduled to take off a 8.55pm to Dublin

Crowds of people packed into Heathrow Terminal 5 to await updates of the reportedly overbooked Aer Lingus flight which was scheduled to take off a 8.55pm to Dublin

One commented: ‘With all due respect guys, you are traveling from one of highest infected regions with a more infectious strain of #Covid_19..You guys run the risk of bringing it to #Ireland. Please consider staying put. It’s hard I know.’

Another wrote: ‘Pls rethink your plans. You risk bringing a more contagious strain of covid to Ireland. Elderly and vulnerable people are literally spending Xmas alone, inside afraid of seeing their families. Don’t be selfish, flights from the UK to here are now being stopped for good reason [sic].’ 

It comes as Britain’s supermarket shelves may be emptied after France bans British lorries coming into the country for 48 hours.  

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Government’s Cobra civil contingencies committee on Monday after a series of countries announced they were stopping flights from the UK, Downing Street has said. 

France has joined Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Israel and El Salvador in banning all flights carrying passengers from the UK. 

Passenger Rachael Scully, 23, tweeted that the Irish Government eventually gave the 'green light' for the flight which was scheduled to leave at 10:30pm and due to land with 15 minutes to spare before the travel ban at midnight

Passenger Rachael Scully, 23, tweeted that the Irish Government eventually gave the ‘green light’ for the flight which was scheduled to leave at 10:30pm and due to land with 15 minutes to spare before the travel ban at midnight 

One road haulage boss told the BBC that while lorries are still allowed from France to the UK, he feared that many European drivers would be unwilling to make the trip fearing they could not get home for Christmas – meaning British supermarket shelves could empty.

He told the broadcaster: ‘Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse – disaster upon disaster. I fear for supermarket supply chains. Many will be reluctant to make the crossing to UK if they can’t get back given there is already congestion.’   

The Eurotunnel Le Shuttle has said that the UK-France border will close at 11pm tonight and the last shuttle between the UK and France is at 9.24pm with access to the UK prohibited from 10pm.

It comes as the Eurostar has also cancelled its trains between London, Brussels in Belgium and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, starting from Monday.   

US authorities are looking ‘very carefully’ into the virus variant spreading in the United Kingdom, top health officials said Sunday, while indicating that a ban on UK travel was not currently in the cards.

Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor to the government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, told CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ that US officials ‘don’t know yet’ if the variant is present in the country.

‘We are, of course… looking very carefully into this,’ including at the National Institutes of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,’ he said.

Britain's supermarket shelves may be emptied after France bans British lorries coming into the country for 48 hours following the new Covid-19 super strain. Pictured: Lorries queue to enter the port of Dover in Kent

Britain’s supermarket shelves may be emptied after France bans British lorries coming into the country for 48 hours following the new Covid-19 super strain. Pictured: Lorries queue to enter the port of Dover in Kent 

A passenger walks through Fiumicino airport, near Rome, Italy, after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks through Fiumicino airport, near Rome, Italy, after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

Passengers wait at Brussels Airport in Zaventem. Belgium said it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight for 24 hours

Passengers wait at Brussels Airport in Zaventem. Belgium said it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight for 24 hours

At the moment, he said, no strain of the virus appears to be resistant to the vaccines available.

‘This particular variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity,’ Slaoui said.

Eurostar stated on its website: ‘Due to announcements from the French and Belgian governments that borders with the UK will close at midnight on Sunday 20th December, we are unable to run any trains from London to Paris, Brussels, Lille or Amsterdam on either Monday 21st December or Tuesday 22nd December.

‘We are also unable to run trains from Amsterdam, Brussels and Lille to London on these dates. We can confirm that our trains will continue to operate from Paris to London.

‘The plan is to resume all our train services to and from the UK on Wednesday 23rd December.’ 

The travel restrictions come after southern England was plunged into a Tier 4 lockdown in a bid to suppress a ‘mutant’ strain of coronavirus.  

The Netherlands was the first country to announce a travel ban, which will remain in place until January 1, its government said in a statement early today.  

France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex tweeted: ‘All flows of people from the United Kingdom to France are suspended from midnight tonight, for 48 hours, and for all means of transport.’ 

A woman walks with a suitcase through Fiumicino airport, near Rome. Italy is prohibiting entry to the country by anyone who had been in the UK in the last 14 days while flights are banned until January 6

A woman walks with a suitcase through Fiumicino airport, near Rome. Italy is prohibiting entry to the country by anyone who had been in the UK in the last 14 days while flights are banned until January 6

Ireland has imposed a 48-hour travel ban on non-essential flights from Britain from midnight which includes passengers on flights and ferries. 

However there will be no ban or travel restrictions for passengers travelling between the Republic and Northern Ireland. 

The rules are to be reviewed during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting but it is understood they will be extended beyond then.

Staff board the last Eurostar train from London to Paris ahead of travel restrictions into France

Staff board the last Eurostar train from London to Paris ahead of travel restrictions into France 

A commuter at King's Cross station in London. The Eurostar has cancelled its trains between London, Brussels in Belgium and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, starting from Monday

A commuter at King’s Cross station in London. The Eurostar has cancelled its trains between London, Brussels in Belgium and Amsterdam in the Netherlands, starting from Monday

Passengers wait wearing face masks on the concourse at King's Cross station in London following Tier Four restrictions

Passengers wait wearing face masks on the concourse at King’s Cross station in London following Tier Four restrictions 

Commuters at the Gare du Nord Eurostar and Thalys terminals train station in Paris, France.

Commuters at the Gare du Nord Eurostar and Thalys terminals train station in Paris, France. 

Passengers queue for check-in at Gatwick Airport after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night claimed that the new strain of Covid-19 might be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains

Passengers queue for check-in at Gatwick Airport after Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night claimed that the new strain of Covid-19 might be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains

Passengers wait following disrupted travel plans and cancelled flights at Gatwick Airport

Passengers wait following disrupted travel plans and cancelled flights at Gatwick Airport 

Ireland’s Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said ferries will continue to operate for freight and added: ‘We have to do this because the UK Government themselves has put in place very strict restrictions on movements.

‘This new strain of coronavirus, which they have identified, seems to have a much higher transmission rate.’

Germany announced all UK flights, with the exception of cargo flights, would no longer be allowed to land in the country. 

Travellers stand in the departure hall of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands on December 17

Travellers stand in the departure hall of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands on December 17

The ban is reportedly set to remain in place until at least December 31, according to the Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 

Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, also called a special crisis meeting on Monday to co-ordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.

The Dutch government added that it is monitoring developments and is considering additional measures regarding other modes of transport.

According to the World Health Organisation, the strain has already been identified in Denmark and the Netherlands, while one case was found in Australia. 

Belgium also said it was suspending flight and train arrivals from Britain from midnight for 24 hours. 

Italy’s health minister Roberto Speranza said an order was signed today blocking flights from Britain and preventing anyone who had been to the UK in the last 14 days from entering Italy. The order bans plane travel until January 6.  

Meanwhile El Salvador has banned travellers who have been in the UK or South Africa in the last 30 days or whose flights included a layover those countries. 

South Africa has also identified a new variant of the virus, which has likewise prompted planned travel curbs. 

Italy has joined a number of European countries in banning flights carrying passengers from the UK from Sunday as Britain detected a new coronavirus strain. Pictured: Passengers depart for the Christmas holidays at Fiumicino airport, near Rome, Italy on December 20

Italy has joined a number of European countries in banning flights carrying passengers from the UK from Sunday as Britain detected a new coronavirus strain. Pictured: Passengers depart for the Christmas holidays at Fiumicino airport, near Rome, Italy on December 20

The Czech Republic was also imposing new measures against UK flights with Prague announcing stricter quarantine rules with all people arriving in the country having spent at least 24 hours in UK territory required to self-isolate. 

Ministers expect other countries to impose travel bans on UK citizens to prevent the new strain from spreading.       

The travel bans came into effect less than 24 hours after Boris Johnson last night claimed that the new strain of Covid-19 might be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains. 

Police Scotland will double its presence along border with England with ‘highly visible patrols’ to deter anyone breaching Covid travel ban but senior officers rule out setting up road blocks to enforce new restrictions 

Police Scotland will double its presence along the border with England but will not set up checkpoints and road blocks to enforce Nicola Sturgeon’s coronavirus travel restrictions, Scotland’s top police chief said today. 

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said that he does not consider draconian curbs on cross-border travel ‘appropriate or proportionate’ as he doubled the number of officers in the Border areas. 

In a statement, the Police Scotland chief said ‘highly visible patrols’ would instead ‘deter anyone who might be considering breaching the coronavirus travel restrictions’. 

Indoor mixing will only be allowed on Christmas Day and most of Scotland will be put into the highest level of lockdown from Boxing Day, with a ‘strict travel ban’ preventing travel to other parts of the UK. 

The First Minister last night cut the Christmas amnesty to one day after Boris Johnson plunged London and much of the South East of England into a brutal new Tier 4 lockdown amid rising coronavirus cases caused by a ‘mutant’ strain of the disease. 

A ‘strict travel ban’ between Scotland and the rest of the UK will remain in place throughout the Christmas holidays while Indoor mixing will only be allowed on Christmas Day. It had been planned to ease the rules for five days, between December 23 and 27. 

Tougher level four rules will also apply across mainland Scotland from Boxing Day and the school return date has been pushed back to January 11.

 

The PM effectively cancelled Christmas for around 18 million people in southern England, including London, last night by moving swathes of the country into a brutal new Tier 4 regime.  

Under the new Tier 4 rules non-essential shops – as well as gyms, cinemas, casinos and hairdressers – have to stay shut and people are limited to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

Those in Tier 4 were told they should not travel out of the region, while those outside were advised against visiting. 

WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove told the BBC today: ‘We understand that this variant has been identified also in Denmark, in the Netherlands and there was one case in Australia and it didn’t spread further there.

‘We understand that the virus does not cause more severe disease from the preliminary information that [the UK] shared with us, although again those studies are underway to look at hospitalized patients with this variant.’ 

In the rest of England, Christmas easing has been severely curtailed, with households allowed to gather for just one day – Christmas Day itself – rather than the five days previously planned.     

With the new variant now sweeping across other parts of the UK including Wales, European governments have imposed blanket bans on flights from the British Isles. 

The Netherlands ban came into effect this morning and the government said it was reacting to tougher measures imposed in London and surrounding areas on Saturday by Mr Johnson.

It added that it will assess ‘with other European Union nations the possibilities to contain the import of the virus from the United Kingdom’. The Dutch government is already strongly advising its citizens not to travel unless absolutely necessary. 

Belgium’s prime minister issued a ban for at least 24 hours while the situation was assessed.  Alexander De Croo saying he was issuing the order for 24 hours starting at midnight ‘out of precaution’.

‘There are a great many questions about this new mutation and if it is not already on the mainland,’ he said. He hoped to have more clarity as of Tuesday.  

Italian media reports suggest about two dozen flights are scheduled to arrive in Italy on Sunday, most in the northern region of Lombardy but also in Veneto and Lazio, which include Venice and Rome, respectively.

More than 327,000 Italian citizens are registered as living in Britain, with the unofficial total reaching up to 700,000.

Sunday is the last day that Italians can travel from one region to another before the Christmas holidays, due to a new partial lockdown imposed by the government to prevent a fresh surge in infections.  

The UK has alerted the World Health Organisation that the new variant identified this week appears to be accelerating the spread of Covid-19, saying it accounted for some 60 per cent of the capital’s cases.

Viruses mutate regularly, and scientists have found thousands different of mutations among samples of the virus causing Covid-19. 

But many of these changes have no effect on how easily the virus spreads or how severe symptoms are.  

The Irish Government is set to impose travel restrictions on flights and ferries from Britain to Ireland. It is understood the restrictions will come into force later on Sunday and last for 48 hours.

The Government is to make a formal announcement on the latest measures in the next few hours. The restrictions are to be reviewed during Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. 

Earlier today, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said that party leaders are looking at flights and ferries coming from Britain. Speaking on The Week on RTE Radio One, he said that any decision would be confirmed on Sunday.

‘I expect the Irish Government will make an announcement later today on travel restrictions,’ Mr Donnelly added. ‘We are worried about it (new strain of coronavirus).’ 

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

Passengers departing for the Christmas holidays amid the second wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at Fiumicino airport, near Rome

Passengers departing for the Christmas holidays amid the second wave of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at Fiumicino airport, near Rome

Germany is also considering banning flights from the UK and South Africa 'as a serious option' to prevent the spread of the new strain circulating in the two countries, a source close to the German health ministry said today. Pictured: A BA plane at London City Airport in the UK's capital (file photo)

Germany is also considering banning flights from the UK and South Africa ‘as a serious option’ to prevent the spread of the new strain circulating in the two countries, a source close to the German health ministry said today. Pictured: A BA plane at London City Airport in the UK’s capital (file photo)

He also said that they would not ‘seal the border’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic but that strong advice would be issued.

Fianna Fail TD Jim O’Callaghan said that the Government will consider advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) when it meets on Tuesday.

Asked whether Ireland will implement a travel ban on flights from Britain, Mr O’Callaghan told RTE: ‘We need to recognise that this country is in a much better position than the United Kingdom.

‘If you look at what happened in the UK yesterday, it is very unacceptable that a government would announce on 4pm on a Saturday before Christmas that people can’t travel before 12pm that evening.

‘The reason for that is because decisions were not made earlier enough by Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson.

‘We’ve done a good job in this country.

‘We need to look at other statistics in terms of numbers, they have gone up but we always knew they were going to go up.’

He said the rate at which cases are rising is of concern.

‘We need to take into account that we are in a good position here but I think that we recognise that household visits seems to be the driver of this,’ he added.

‘The statistics from the HSE show the danger is in household visits and I suspect that Government will revisit that in terms of limiting the number of people that can visit households.’

Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan said: ‘Instead of a flight ban we need to fix what we haven’t actually done in the pandemic which is monitoring people coming in to the country and having proper contact tracing and testing as opposed to what it is. 

Cars are seen parked at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

Cars are seen parked at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger walks at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger looks at a flight board at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

A passenger looks at a flight board at Fiumicino airport after the Italian government announced all flights to and from the UK will be suspended over fears of a new strain of the coronavirus

‘It’s totally irresponsible’: Matt Hancock slams travellers fleeing London as it plunges into Tier 4 and warns police will set up road blocks and stop families boarding trains in bid to halt spread of mutant Covid strain nationwide 

Matt Hancock today hit out at ‘totally irresponsible’ Londoners who fled the capital last night after Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people in southern England.

The Health Secretary sighed and shook his head as Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme showed him social-media images of large crowds queueing on a packed platform at St Pancras Station. 

In a round of TV interviews this morning, Mr Hancock said people living in brutal new Tier 4 regions in London and the South and East of England should ‘unpack their bags’ and ‘restrict social contact’ this Christmas.

He hinted that the tough restrictions on movement will be in place for months and warned that ‘of course’ police will enforce the new law and will prevent people from leaving Tier 4 areas.    

‘I think we need to have a system where people are going to restrict their movements and they are followed up.

‘It is a huge concern about people coming home from Britain over Christmas and if they are carrying that strain.

‘I find it more concerning that we’ve had nearly a year now and never actually cracked that nut of tracking the people coming in and leaving the country.’

Ireland’s chief medical officer has also urged people to stay at home and avoid restaurants as cases of coronavirus rise across the country.

Dr Tony Holohan said people should not meet up and warned against being in crowds.

It is the latest warning from the chief medical officer who said there is strong reason for ‘persistent, ongoing concern’ over Ireland’s recent Covid-19 figures.

He tweeted on Sunday morning: ‘Cases rising quickly. We have low cases and deaths compared to EU/UK/US. This is at risk now – just as vaccines arrive.

‘To protect yourself and those you love: Stay home. Don’t meet up. Stay away from restaurants/pubs. Avoid crowds. Use masks. Follow health advice.’

Germany is also considering banning flights from the UK and South Africa ‘as a serious option’ to prevent the spread of the new strain circulating in the two countries, a source close to the German health ministry said today.   

The country wants to ban all flights from the UK from midnight until January 6, Bild newspaper said, citing government sources. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet will vote later on Sunday on a decree prepared by the health minister and she will hold a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron to discuss a coordinated EU response to the new strain of the virus detected in Britain. 

The chancellery was not immediately available for comment.

Austria said it would also halt flights from the U.K. but there were no immediate details on the timing of the ban, the Austrian news agency APA reported. 

The Czech Republic, meanwhile, imposed stricter quarantine measures from people arriving from the UK. They announced that all people arriving in the country who spent at least 24 hours on British territory during the last two weeks have to isolate as of this Sunday. 

Spain said that in response to the moves by some of its European Union partners, it had asked the European Commission and the European Council for a coordinated response from the bloc to the new situation. 

Otherwise it would act unilaterally to defend its interests and citizens, the Madrid government said.  

Christmas plans are left in tatters as British Airways and Virgin REFUSE refunds for Tier 4 passengers because they are not cancelling flights with millions forced to rearrange trips as they scramble to get their money back from travel firms 

Christmas plans have been left in tatters amid new Covid curbs as some airlines refuse to refund passengers for trips they can no longer take.  

Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas for almost 18 million people in London, south-eastern and eastern England as the region was put into a new two-week lockdown from Sunday.

Under the new Tier 4 rules non-essential shops – as well as gyms, cinemas, casinos and hairdressers – have to stay shut and people are limited to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.

Those in Tier 4 were told they should not travel out of the region, while those outside were advised against visiting.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have revealed they will not be offering refunds to passengers who cancel trips for the end of the year following the new restrictions.  

The Virgin Atlantic Twitter account posted: ‘Refunds are only permitted for cancelled flights. If you have booked with us directly, you have the option to rebook for a new travel date up until 31 December 2022.

‘If you have booked with a third party, please contact them directly for your options.’

British Airways customer Lisa Hunter tweeted at the airline saying: ‘Just been moved into Tier 4 yet just been told on phone we cannot have a refund for flights booked for over xmas as ”the flight isn’t cancelled”.

‘It’s now illegal to travel out of Tier 4 areas so surely this cannot be the case? Heathrow is in Tier 4!’

BA replied: ‘Hi Lisa, flights are continuing to operate, as essential travel is still permitted. We’re afraid a full refund is only permitted if your flight is cancelled.’

A pedestrian walks through an almost deserted concourse at Charing Cross train station in London on December 20

A pedestrian walks through an almost deserted concourse at Charing Cross train station in London on December 20

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have revealed they will not be offering refunds to passengers who cancel trips for the end of the year following the new restrictions

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have revealed they will not be offering refunds to passengers who cancel trips for the end of the year following the new restrictions

A BA spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Customers who are unable to travel, or choose not to, can continue to change their flights or request a voucher for future use as part of our Book with Confidence policy, which has been available since the beginning of the pandemic.

As always, if a customer’s flight is cancelled they are entitled to a full refund or a voucher, and we always contact any customers whose flights may be affected to discuss their options.’

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson told MailOnline: ”We understand the difficulties that Covid-19 and Tier 4 restrictions pose to some of our customers. 

‘Where a customer is unable to travel for any reason, we offer as much choice and flexibility as possible to help them change or amend their plans, with a name change and two date change fees waived for a new travel date up until 31 December 2022. 

‘Where a flight is cancelled, customers are of course entitled to a full cash refund.’ 

Rival airline EasyJet said that it would be offering refunds for those who were staying home.

A spokesperson said: ‘EasyJet plans to fly its current schedule over the coming days, however, following the UK Government’s announcement implementing Tier 4 restrictions which includes advice against travelling abroad, we understand some customers may now need to change their flights.

Londoners are seen waiting for trains in Euston Station in a last-ditch bid to spend Christmas out of the capital

Londoners are seen waiting for trains in Euston Station in a last-ditch bid to spend Christmas out of the capital

‘Impacted customers in Tier 4 areas have the option of transferring to an alternative flight free of charge, receiving a voucher or receiving a refund. This policy applies to any flights up until 30 December.

‘All other customers can make changes to their booking without incurring a change fee up to 14 days before departure online via Manage Bookings at easyJet.com.’

Last night large numbers of Londoners fled the capital via train to escape the new restrictions just before they became enforceable – but many more are now stuck with tickets for Christmas visits they are now forbidden from using. 

Which? consumer rights expert Adam French said: ‘These new restrictions will cause massive travel disruption and chaos, leaving many peoples’ festive plans in tatters.

‘If you’ve forked out on money for a train ticket and have to stay put you should be able to cancel the trip and get your money back.

‘Rail operators should be as accommodating as possible by allowing passengers the flexibility to use tickets or issuing them refunds if they can’t travel at another time.’

What are the new Tier 4 rules? 

The Tier 4 rules will be essentially the same as the blanket lockdown that England was under in November. 

Non-essential retail must close, as well as leisure facilities, and personal care such as hairdressers. 

However, places of worship can stay open. 

People in other Tiers will be advised not to go into the highest bracket areas, while residents of Tier 4 must not stay overnight in lower infection spots. 

Restrictions which forced millions of people across the UK to tear up their Christmas plans may have to remain for ‘the next couple of months’, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has suggested.   

‘What is really important is that people not only follow them (the new rules) but everybody in a Tier 4 area acts as if you have the virus to stop spreading it to other people,’ Mr Hancock told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme.

Scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) have concluded the VUI 202012/01 mutant strain, identified by the Public Health England laboratories at Porton Down, is spreading more quickly.

The Prime Minister was advised of the group’s conclusions at a meeting with ministers on the Covid O Committee on Friday evening, and the new regulations were signed off by Cabinet before Saturday’s announcement scuppered many people’s plans to see family for Christmas.

‘We know with this new variant you can catch it more easily from a small amount of the virus being present,’ Mr Hancock said.

‘All of the different measures we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant. That is the fundamental problem.

‘We know that because we know that in November that in the areas where this new variant started, in Kent, the cases carried on rising whereas in the rest of the country the November lockdown worked very effectively.

‘It is an enormous challenge, until we can get the vaccine rolled out to protect people. This is what we face over the next couple of months.’

In the rest of England, Christmas easing has been severely curtailed, with households allowed to gather for just one day – Christmas Day itself – rather than the five days previously planned.

Scotland and Wales are also restricting Christmas ‘bubbles’ to a single day, while people in Northern Ireland have been asked to consider forming a bubble for Christmas Day only.

Wales has also mirrored the Tier 4 restrictions in England by bringing forward Alert Level 4 measures to Sunday, while Scotland has said its travel ban with the rest of the UK will now remain in place right throughout the festive period.

People go through barriers to catch trains at Paddington Station in London. The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Boris Johnson explained during a press briefing on Saturday

People go through barriers to catch trains at Paddington Station in London. The introduction of the new tier seeks to curb a new more infectious strain of the virus, Boris Johnson explained during a press briefing on Saturday

People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on Saturday as people scramble to get out of London before Tier 4 rules come into power at midnight

People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on Saturday as people scramble to get out of London before Tier 4 rules come into power at midnight

The new regulations creating a Tier 4 in England came into force at 7am on Sunday and will be laid before Parliament, which is in recess, on Monday.

The statutory instrument was made at 6am on Sunday, and must be approved by both the House of Commons and House of Lords within 28 days, otherwise the change to the law is reversed as per a process known as the ‘made affirmative procedure’.

Which parts of the country are in Tier 4?

Kent

Buckinghamshire

Berkshire

Surrey (excluding Waverley)

The boroughs of Gosport, Havant, Portsmouth, Rother and Hastings

All 32 London boroughs and the city of London.

Bedford, Central Bedfordshire, Milton Keynes, Luton, Peterborough

Hertfordshire

Essex (excluding Colchester, Uttlesford and Tendring).

At a No 10 news conference on Saturday, Mr Johnson said he was taking the actions with a ‘heavy heart’, but the scientific evidence had left him with no choice.

The announcements prompted a rush to the London train stations and by 7pm on Saturday, there were no tickets available online from several London stations including Paddington, Kings Cross and Euston.

Footage posted on social media showed large crowds at St Pancras station waiting to board trains to Leeds.

The Netherlands is banning flights from the UK for at least the rest of the year in an attempt to make sure the new strain does not reach its shores.

It said it will assess ‘with other European Union nations the possibilities to contain the import of the virus from the United Kingdom’.

The announcements came as a hammer blow to many businesses – particularly retailers hoping to pick up some pre-Christmas sales at the end of a torrid year in which they had faced repeated orders to close.

There was also fury among some Conservative MPs after weeks of growing backbench unrest over the return of more and more stringent controls.

Mark Harper, the leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, demanded the recall of Parliament so MPs could debate and vote on the changes for England.

British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul however welcomed the announcement which, he said, would save lives and help health services cope with ‘incredible demand’. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk