Passenger flight traffic from Britain to Finland has been halted for two weeks. The ban officially took effect at noon on Monday, but national airline Finnair cancelled flights from the morning on.
The Director of the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom), Kirsi Karlamaa, said late Sunday that air traffic would be suspended until 4 January.
Finland is following many other countries in stopping direct flights from Britain due to a new, highly-contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus.
Traficom made the decision based on a statement by the National Institute for Health and Welfare of Finland (THL), which declared that an immediate halt to passenger air traffic from the UK to Finland was essential.
Traficom’s Deputy Director-General of Transport System Services, Jarkko Saarimäki, said that the ban does not cover transit flights originating in the UK and flying to Finland via other countries, only direct connections from Britain to Finland. It also does not affect cargo flights. Finnair said it will continue to operate cargo flights as needed.
Saarimäki noted that there have only been a couple of direct daily passenger flights between Finland and Britain in recent weeks.
Finnair seeking alternate routes for foreign passengers
Finnair said it was cancelling all flights between Finland and Britain for two weeks, beginning with Monday morning's return flights from Helsinki to London and back.
Finnair communications director Päivyt Tallqvist said that flights were being cancelled one by one and that customers were being notified individually as the process moved forward.
Tallqvist said that nearly 100 passengers were booked for the Monday morning flight from Helsinki to London, with just over 100 booked for the return flight. She said that the passengers on the outbound flight included a few dozen foreigners, and that Finnair was looking into alternate ways of getting them to London.
Tallqvist noted that Finnair’s flights are in principle all return flights, so all flights from Finland to Britain are also cancelled.
Finnair said it would arrange a flight on Monday afternoon to repatriate British citizens to the UK, which was to return empty. The flag carrier said that more such flights may be arranged in the coming days.
All passengers arriving from London on Sunday evening were tested for coronavirus, the Helsinki University Hospital (HUS) district said on Monday. The approximately 170 passengers were also given stricter quarantine instructions.
EU neighbours shut transport links as Brexit looms
Many EU countries have blocked flights from the UK, with some close neighbours also halting train and ferry connections.
The new strain of Covid-19 identified in the United Kingdom can spread more quickly and urgent work is under way to confirm that it does not cause a higher mortality rate, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said on Saturday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to chair an emergency response meeting on Monday to discuss international travel, in particular the flow of freight in and out of Britain, with Brexit looming in just 10 days.
12:06 Updated with more information about Sunday and Monday flights.
13:48 Updated with more information about cargo flights and other details.