British nationals have been advised to avoid all non-essential foreign travel as the coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, officials said Tuesday.
The advisory will initially last 30 days, but could be extended due to the fast-paced spread of the COVID-19 virus, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told legislators in the House of Commons.
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“UK travelers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lock-downs in various countries,” Raab said. “The speed and range of those measures across other countries is unprecedented.”
Britain’s Foreign Office (FCO) said those who find it necessary to travel abroad amid the pandemic should be fully aware of increased risks, including possible flight cancelations and quarantining if countries issue further restrictions.
The decision comes a week after a nationwide lockdown took effect in Italy – which has the highest number of virus cases outside China. Spain followed suit over the weekend, while other European Union nations have implemented partial border closures. The EU proposed a 30-day ban on non-essential travel in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told people to eliminate unnecessary contact with others, working from home where possible and avoiding bars, restaurants, theaters and other venues. Schools remained open for the time being.
Some scientists, and many worried Britons, have said the government should have taken tough action sooner.
Britain’s dramatic escalation of social restrictions to fight the virus was sparked by new scientific evidence suggesting that 250,000 people in the U.K. and more than 1 million in the U.S. possibly would die if the spread were not suppressed.
The analysis, published by Imperial College London epidemiologists, drew on the latest data from China and Italy. It found that a strategy of “mitigation” — slowing but not stopping the spread of the virus while protecting vulnerable groups like the elderly — would still lead to a huge number of cases that would overwhelm the health care system.
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The United Kingdom has reported 1,543 confirmed coronavirus cases and 55 deaths as of Tuesday. COVID-19 has killed over 7,100 people around the world, so far and more than 79,000 have recovered.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.