Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, Monday Dec. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tolga Akmen/Pool via AP

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, Monday Dec. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tolga Akmen/Pool via AP

‘A bombshell’: Canadians stuck in U.K. face uncertainty after Canada shuts air travel

Canada is one of several countries to ban travel from the U.K. due to the new strain of the virus

Mark Sultana says Canada’s decision to halt most air travel from the United Kingdom, where a mutated strain of COVID-19 has been discovered, landed “like a bombshell.”

The 52-year-old Canadian entrepreneur, who has called London home for the better part of two decades, said the move announced late Sunday has been especially disconcerting for Canadians who had planned to visit family and friends back home over the holidays.

“We can’t go anywhere — any of us,” Sultana, an administrator of the Facebook group “Canadians in London” said in an interview Monday. “We’re landlocked on this island, and it’s lots of Canadians who are affected.”

Originally from the Greater Toronto Area, Sultana said members of the 6,800-person Facebook group have reported their flights being cancelled. He said confusion and surprise reigned in the hours after Canada’s decision.

“They were prepared to quarantine and do the things that they needed to do to get back home, but now they’re completely stuck,” Sultana said.

The federal government said late Sunday that passenger flights from the U.K. into Canada would be suspended for 72 hours in an attempt to keep out a new strain of COVID-19 discovered by British health officials.

“These additional measures will allow public health officials time to gather further evidence and help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a statement announcing the border restrictions.

Canada is one of several countries to ban travel from the U.K. due to the new strain of the virus, which British officials said appears to be 70 per cent more transmissible.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday that London and the southeast of England would be placed under stricter, “tier 4” COVID-19 restrictions due to a surge in cases and concerns over the new variant. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the strain is “out of control” in those areas.

This isn’t the first time London has been under lockdown, however, said 32-year-old Julien Gagnon, a native of Saint-Lambert, Que., who has lived in the U.K. for 10 years, including nearly five years in the British capital.

He said people have been hunkering down in London for weeks, but that the largest impact of “tier 4” restrictions will be felt in the coming days, as holiday gatherings between people from different households now are banned.

“I’m pretty sure that for the very vast majority of people, it feels exactly the same way that it must feel in Canada right now,” he said in an interview. “We can’t do anything. We need to stay inside. We can’t see friends, we can’t see family, we can’t celebrate Christmas.”

READ MORE: Canada among countries to hit Britain with travel ban over coronavirus variant

In that way, Gagnon said daily life in London seems similar to his home province of Quebec, where Premier Francois Legault this month reversed plans to allow holiday gatherings over four days. Quebec has recorded over 6,200 new COVID-19 cases over the past three days and additional restrictions, namely the closure of non-essential businesses, are coming into effect on Dec. 25.

“We were going to have a bit more freedom around Christmas than in Quebec; now it’s exactly the same thing,” said Gagnon, adding that he plans to do a Zoom call with his family in Canada.

Bobby Demers, a Toronto native who has lived in the U.K. since 1988, said many people were out shopping in London on Monday, fuelled in part by fears that fresh produce will run out as the borders close.

“I went to the local supermarket this morning … and the lineup, with cars, was outside the shopping centre itself,” he said.

The U.K. is less than two weeks away from the final stage of its exit from the European Union and the British government has not yet reached a trade deal with the 27-member bloc.

“This almost is like a precursor of what’s going to happen in two weeks when (the) lorries and the trucks and the planes are not going to be able to go back and forth very easily between England and Europe,” Demers said in an interview.

An administrator of a Facebook group called “Canadians in the U.K.,” which has 5,300 members, Demers said people are banding together and offering words of support amid the uncertainty. “The empathy that as Canadians we have for each other has really come out,” he said.

“People have this view of London as (a place where) people don’t talk to each other, people avoid eye contact, but when things get tight and in times of emergency, people here do tend to come together.”

— With files from The Associated Press.

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusUnited Kingdom

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

Danielle Groenendijk raised more than twice her goal for Parkinson’s Canada. (Photo submitted)
VIU volleyball athlete doubles fundraising goal for Parkinson’s

Daily runs over 30 days by Groenendijk add up to 254 kilometres

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New street signs in Duncan in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional native names on signs

Possible COVID-19 exposures may have occurred at Alexander Elementary School on Jan. 13, 14 and 15. (Google Maps)
Alexander Elementary in Duncan announces possible COVID-19 exposures

Exposures may have occurred on Jan. 13, 14 and 15

North Cowichan to add three more off-leash dog areas in the new year. (File photo)
North Cowichan adds three new off-leash areas

Trial program runs through 2021, but not the summer months

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Members of the BC RCMP Explosive Disposal Unit (EDU) is on route to Drummond Park opposite of Fulford Habour on Saltspring Island after the discovery of a suspicious cylindrical-shaped device. (Google/Screencap)
Bomb disposal unit en route to Salt Spring Island after suspicious device found in park

Police say a resident discovered the device Wednesday morning in Drummond Park opposite BC Ferries terminal

Most Read