France bans flights from Brazil over P1 Covid variant fears

French government responds to worsening crisis in Latin America’s largest country

A picture taken on March 24, 2020, shows grounded airplanes at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy-en-France, north of Paris, on the eight day of a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) in France. - The southern Orly airport could close by the end of the month and Paris' airport activity regrouped at the northern Charles-de-Gaulle airport, due to a drop in air traffic caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, the French Junior minister for Transports  said on March 22, 2020. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)
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France suspended all flights from Brazil on Tuesday amid mounting fear over the virulent P1 coronavirus variant ravaging the South American country.

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the suspension to parliament.

“We note that the situation is getting worse and so we have decided to suspend all flights between Brazil and France until further notice,” he said.

Although France has had comparatively few known cases of the P1 variant first detected in Brazil, the Covid cataclysm in Latin America’s largest country has caused consternation.

Travellers from Brazil already needed to test negative for the virus before their departure and upon arrival in France, and also quarantine for 10 days.

French health experts had raised concerns that these restrictions were inadequate, however, and urged the government to take further action.

Mr Castex’s announcement drew scattered applause in parliament.

Opposition politician Boris Vallaud called the flight suspension “necessary and a very good decision”.

France has had 5.1 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, the highest number in Europe, and more than 99,000 deaths.

The country is struggling with another wave of coronavirus infections that is straining hospitals in Paris and elsewhere.

To curb France’s surge in cases, restrictions on travel and movement are enforced nationwide, on top of an overnight curfew. Schools are in the midst of a shutdown scheduled to last for at least three weeks.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran told parliament the UK variant was responsible for about 80 per cent of infections in France and that those first seen in Brazil and South Africa make up fewer than four per cent of French infections.

“Proportionally, we are seeing a retreat of these variants because they are less contagious than the English one,” Mr Veran said.

Even before the flight suspension, passenger traffic from Brazil had been drastically curtailed by limits on travel during the pandemic.

The transport minister said this week that as few as 50 people per day were flying into Paris’s main airport from Brazil, down from 50,000 per week before the crisis.