16:56 GMT26 January 2021
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    The UK has been hit by a mutant version of COVID-19, which spreads faster than the original virus. European Union member states have reacted by promptly closing their borders to travellers from the UK.

    More than 500 calls have been made to a UK government helpline set up for Irish people stranded in the UK following the introduction of a travel ban to reduce the spread of a new coronavirus variant. 

    The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) released a statement on Tuesday explaining that their helpline for eligible travellers to Ireland had received a massive influx of calls from those desperately looking to escape Britain, and urged people in need to be patient.

    “This helpline answered over 500 calls yesterday. We would ask people to be patient as we deal with this high volume of queries," the statement said.
    "Separately, our consular teams have identified a small number of Irish residents who are stranded in Great Britain after taking short trips in their vehicles. The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Transport will make arrangements with ferry companies to give these Irish residents exceptional access to ferry services that are currently for freight only in order to return home," the statement added.

    Anyone eligible to travel to Ireland who wants to take the ferry cannot make direct bookings and instead must contact the assistance line.

    "It is essential that anyone who travels from Great Britain, or has travelled in recent days, self-isolates for 14 days in the interest of public health", the statement said.

    The statement stressed that only Irish residents and transiting passengers should contact the Department of Foreign Affairs helpline. 


    ​Some of those who are stuck will return home on special flights or ferries organised by the Irish Government.

    Irish Ministers Simon Coveney and Eamon Ryan announced on Monday that COVID consular flights and ferry access will be available for those left stranded in British airports and ferry ports.

    A minimum of two flights operated by Irish airlines will operate on Tuesday evening and take those stuck in UK airports back to Ireland, a DFA spokesman said.

    This comes as the UK introduced further lockdown measures following the discovery of a new fast-spreading COVID variant, prompting many European countries to ban travellers from the UK.

    coronavirus, COVID-19, Ireland, United Kingdom
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