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Nations ban UK flights in move to block new virus strain

At least six countries temporarily suspended flights with the U.K. on Sunday as the nation experiences a surge in new COVID-19 cases and a new strain of the virus moves across southern England.

The Associated Press reported that Austria, Belgium, Germany, Israel, Italy and the Netherlands had all halted travel to the U.K. except for official reasons, a move that came shortly after the U.K.'s prime minister announced a new wave of restrictions for southern England.

Italy has also banned entry from anyone who was in the U.K. over the past 14 days, according to the news service, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is warning of a new, more easily transmissible strain of COVID-19 afflicting the country.

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"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned," Johnson tweeted.

"We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives so we can see them at future Christmases," he continued.

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The head of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, accused Johnson of being slow to implement restrictions on gatherings and shutter shops and public places in response to the new wave of infections. The U.K. experienced a drop in its rate of new infections earlier this month but in recent days has seen the number surge to previous heights. More than 67,000 people have now died across the U.K. from COVID-19.

“The alarms bells have been ringing for weeks, but the prime minister chose to ignore them,” said Starmer, the AP reported. “It is an act of gross negligence by a prime minister who, once again, has been caught behind the curve.”

President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden overruled Blinken, top officials on initial refugee cap decision: report Suicide bombing hits Afghan security forces Jim Jordan, Val Demings get in shouting match about police during hearing MORE's surgeon general nominee, Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyWe need laws to stop gun violence, but we need to stop glorifying it, too Overnight Health Care: All adults in US now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine | White House launches media blitz to promote vaccines White House launches media effort to promote coronavirus vaccines MORE, said Sunday that the new, more contagious coronavirus strain reported in the U.K. does not appear to be any deadlier.

“This news from the U.K. appears to be about a new strain of the virus that’s more transmissible, more contagious than the virus we’ve seen prior to this,” Murthy, who was surgeon general in the Obama administration, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “While it seems to be more transmissible, we do not have evidence yet that this is a more deadly virus to an individual who acquires it.”

He added that there is also no evidence coronavirus vaccines would be any less effective against the new strain.