Huge queues at Heathrow as passengers scramble onto flights before travel ban

Heathrow Airport and St Pancras International were thrown into chaos last night as hundreds of passengers waited to board flights and trains out of the UK before Europe’s travel bans began.

In Ireland, flights and ferries from the UK have been banned for 48 hours from midnight this morning, with the restrictions due to be reviewed in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The country joins France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Finland, Bulgaria and Denmark in taking decisive action against the UK’s new strain of Covid, which Boris Johnson has said is up to 70% more contagious than previous variants.

Canada, Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and El Salvador have also temporarily closed their borders to the UK, while the US remains under pressure to take immediate action

At Heathrow, hundreds of passengers heading to Dublin became stranded during Sunday evening due to flights being overbooked. Footage from the airport showed crowds of people queueing in Terminal Five with their bags before another flight was hastily arranged for 10.30pm.

Katie Cullen, a passenger attempting to travel, told The Irish Times at the time: ‘It’s all over the place. People arrived after us and they haven’t been told anything and it is just general chaos.’

Another passenger Rachael Scully, 23, later tweeted that the Irish Government had eventually given the ‘green light’ for the 10.30pm flight, which was due to land 15 minutes before the travel ban came into effect. She added: ‘Woops of joy once the news got out. A Christmas miracle! [sic]’ 

At St Pancras, in London, huge snaking queues of passengers formed on Sunday evening as people waited to board one of the sold-out Eurostar trains. Hundreds of people changed their tickets after France suspended ‘all flows of people from the United Kingdom’ for 48 hours.

One Frenchman, who only gave his name as Francois, 23, said he booked his ticket to Paris in the morning after changing it from next week. He went on: ‘I know that it’s not really good to leave and go back to France. I haven’t seen my family for four months and a half.

‘I tried to isolate myself as much as possible. I booked my train this morning, not really reasonable because of the evolution of the virus. It’s a pretty personal choice, I don’t feel proud about that.’

Miguel Gallego, 32, from the Netherlands, had plans to travel to Belgium and had seen both his flight and Eurostar train to Amsterdam cancelled. He explained he was moving for work and his UK home was now empty.

He said: ‘I would have [stayed in the UK] if I could have a place to stay but at the moment the easiest (thing) is to go away. To be honest I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have this train.’

New tier four rules imposed on London and parts of the South East mean people can only travel out of these areas for limited reasons, such as for work, education or caring responsibilities. International travel is also restricted to legally permitted reasons, including for work.

A engineering student, 21, travelling home to Brussels, who did not want to be named, said he was heading back for work and to access documents and a working computer.

He said: ‘I contracted the coronavirus a month ago. I should be pretty immune. I know it’s not 100% sure. I’ve been self-isolating for the last two weeks. Hopefully it’s going to be okay.’

He criticised the government’s ‘abrupt’ changes to Covid-19 restrictions in England, adding: ‘Now they just created chaos and chaos is never good for any reason.’

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