Trucks have been backed up for kilometres and people left stranded at airports as countries around the world close their doors to Britain over fears around a new strain of COVID-19 in England.
A growing number of nations have halted air travel from Britain, while France banned British trucks for 48 hours from Sunday night so the more infectious variant could be assessed.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the strain was “out of control” in London and south-east England, where a new Tier 4 level of lockdown was introduced on Saturday.
There were rising hopes that France would soon allow traffic to flow again, if truck drivers took coronavirus tests on arrival.
While the French ban does not prevent trucks heading for Britain, the move stoked worries about shortages at a time of year when Britain produces little of its own food and relies heavily on produce delivered from Europe by truck.
In a sign of the British government’s concern, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a meeting of the national emergency committee.
About 10,000 trucks pass through Britain’s port of Dover every day, accounting for about 20 per cent of the country’s trade in goods.
British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said France’s ban was “slightly surprising” but insisted the British public would “for the most part” not notice any shortages.
Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s warned that some products, such as lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and citrus fruits, could soon be in short supply if the crisis was not quickly resolved.
France’s Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari indicated that a solution was coming.
In a tweet, he said that “in the coming hours, at a European level, we will put a solid health protocol in place so that the flow from the United Kingdom can resume”.
Canada, India, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland were among the countries that halted flights from Britain.
In the US, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said he wanted a ban on flights from Britain to New York City.
Eurotunnel, the rail operator that carries passengers and freight between Britain and mainland Europe, has suspended services out of Britain.
The moves come days after Mr Johnson’s announced he was placing London and the south-east of England in a newly created tier of restrictions after scientific advisers warned that they had detected a new strain of the virus that might be more contagious.
Mr Johnson said early indications were that the variant was 70 per cent more transmissible and was driving the rapid spread of infections in the capital and surrounding areas.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that while preliminary analysis suggested the new variant was “significantly more transmissible”, there was no indication that infections were more severe.
The Stockholm-based agency said a few cases of the variant had been reported by Iceland, Denmark and the Netherlands. It also cited news reports of cases in Belgium and Italy.
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant confirmed on Monday that “a couple” of arrivals in Sydney also had the variant.