UK citizens were told to avoid all non-essential travel anywhere in the world today as the Government tried to battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britons should avoid travel ‘globally’ under new travel advice from the Foreign Office.
The new rules will initially be in place for 30 days but will be ‘subject to ongoing revision’, he told the House of Commons.
‘Based on the fast-changing international circumstances today I am announcing changes to FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) travel advice,’ he told MPs.
‘UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries.
‘The FCO will always consider the safety and the security of British nationals so with immediate effect I’ve taken the decision to advise British nationals against non-essential travel globally for an initial period of 30 days and of course subject to ongoing review.’
He said that the government was speaking to tour operators, insurance operators and airlines over a move that is likely to grind holiday and business travel to a virtual standstill, threatening jobs and business viability.
The Foreign Office is not currently advising British people to immediately return to the UK if they are overseas, except from a few specific countries detailed in travel advice.
But British travellers are urged to bear in mind the prospect of flights being cancelled at short notice or additional restrictions being imposed by the local authorities.
The shift comes after EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced outlined plans for a 30-day ban on all non-essential inflows to the bloc.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britons should avoid travel ‘globally’ under new travel advice from the Foreign Office
The restrictions, set to be signed off in a conference call by national leaders later, do not apply to Britons or freight.
The Foreign Office had already advised against ‘all but essential’ travel to many parts of the world due to the risk posed by the virus, or the risk of being cut off as transport links are shut.
Explaining the advised travel restrictions, Dominic Raab told MPs: ‘This decision has been taken based on the domestic measures introduced in the UK alongside the changes to border and a range of other restrictions which are now being taken right around the world.
‘The speed and the range of those measures across other countries is unprecedented, some of those decisions are being made without notice.
‘In some countries, even in countries or particular areas where there haven’t yet been any reported cases of Covid-19 local authorities are nonetheless imposing restrictions on movement and again doing so with little or sometimes no notice.’
He added that the Government will issue detailed advice on maintaining the flow of goods to the UK, while protecting staff working on shipping routes.
Mr Raab said: ‘The Government of course is keenly aware that international freight services such as shipping and haulage are vital for ensuring the continuity of the supply of essential foods, goods and material to the UK.
‘So we do regard this kind of travel as essential and we will work with industry to issue detailed advice which maintains the flow of goods whilst protecting the wellbeing of staff who are working on those routes.
‘The Department for Transport will be leading this work with the freight sector with the objective of minimising disruption to those routes as far as is possible.’
He added: ‘At the same time, FCO consular teams are working round the clock to provide the best, most up-to-date information that we can possibly provide to UK nationals.’
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, said the FO’s decision was ‘no surprise given recent developments’ but warned it will cause ‘yet more uncertainty with demand set to plummet still further’.
Many European countries have announced their own containment measures to try and get a grip on the pandemic, including shutting their doors to foreign nationals.
Canada, Norway and Denmark are among a host of countries who have announced emergency border closures in a bid to impede the spread of the pandemic.
The US has also barred all foreign nationals.
Boris Johnson dramatically ramped up the government’s response to the crisis last night, urging Britons to avoid all ‘non-essential’ social contact, shunning pubs, cafes, restaurants, cinemas and clubs.
At an historic press conference in Downing Street, the PM warned that the coronavirus was now in a phase of rapid spread across the UK, with London seeing a particular surge.
Arrivals at Heathrow Terminal 5 was busy today, while the departures area was much quieter
He said everyone should avoid contact that is not absolutely necessary – with restaurants, bars and cinemas and travel off limits, and an end to large gatherings. Admitting that the squeeze could last 12 weeks or even longer, Mr Johnson acknowledged he was ‘asking a lot’.
Entire households should self-isolate for two weeks if one person has been showing symptoms, and older people should prepare to stay away from risks for months to come. He said that meant ‘you should not go out, even to buy food or essentials’.
But unlike New York – where all bars and restaurants were compelled to close by 8pm local time last night – Mr Johnson said he would rely on businesses and Britons to follow guidance.
Mr Johnson also said he was not yet ordering schools to be closed, saying he still believed it could make matters worse.
As the UK coronavirus death toll spiked to 55, the PM said: ‘If necessary, you should ask for help from others for your daily necessities. If that is not possible, you should do what you can to limit your social contact when you leave the house to get supplies.’
‘Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and stop all non-essential travel. We need people to start working from home where they possible can. You should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.’
In a special plea to the capital, Mr Johnson said people there were at the highest risk. ‘It looks as though London is now a few weeks ahead… it’s important that Londoners now pay special attention to what we are saying about avoiding all non-essential contact.’
Mr Johnson was flanked by Chief medical officer Chris Whitty (left) and chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance (right) at the press conference in Downing Street tonight
The Tube in West London was eerily quiet this morning as the government’s lockdown advice was heeded