Irish in London say new British lockdown ‘a punch in the gut’

Alix Gaisford was packing for a flight home when she was alerted of the new restrictions

 Travellers at Kings Cross St Pancras train station queue to board trains to Paris on Sunday. Photograph: EPA

Travellers at Kings Cross St Pancras train station queue to board trains to Paris on Sunday. Photograph: EPA

 

For many of the Irish living in London the new Tier-4 restrictions announced on Saturday, coupled with the “stay at home” order, did not prompt a change in their plans for Christmas.

Karl McDonald and his partner usually return to Dublin every Christmas. However, this year they made the decision to stay in London well before the new restrictions were put in place.

And Aisling Flowers, from Co Offaly, said “Ireland was off the cards” long before any news of Tier-4, or the 48-hour travel ban into Ireland, arrived.

But the announcement of the restrictions still came like “a punch in the gut”, complicating the plans she had to spend Christmas in London.

But there are plenty of Irish in London who had their plans to travel home upended by the news. Alix Gaisford was packing for her flight home when her brother alerted her of Tier-4 restrictions.

She was planning to spend Christmas with her family in Ireland, but made the decision to stay in the UK - before the Irish Government announced a 48-hour travel ban - in the hopes of having “a more certain Christmas”, as chaos and confusion runs abound over travel bans and the tiered restriction system.

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There were several flights to Dublin out of London airports on Sunday. Many who spoke to The Irish Times were unwilling to give details on whether they had changed their plans to fly home in view of the new regulations.

Millions living in London and across the South East of England face having their Christmas plans thrown into disarray by the new Covid-19 restrictions announced on Saturday.

Thanks to surging case numbers and growing concern over a new strain of the virus - thought to have a significantly higher transmission rate - British prime minister Boris Johnson has rolled back on the government’s original plans to ease restrictions from December23rd-28th.

Police officers have been deployed to some train stations - including at St Pancras above - to enforce new travel restrictions.
Police officers have been deployed to some train stations - including at St Pancras above - to enforce new travel restrictions.

Prior to the shock announcement on Saturday afternoon, original measures were in place to allow up to three households to mix indoors, and to allow people to travel across the country in a five-day window.

Now, those living under these much tighter restrictions - known as Tier 4 - are not permitted to travel outside their region. And, the ban on household mixing will remain in place. But before these measures came into effect at midnight, thousands made last minute attempts to leave London. Images circulated across social media of packed trains and major railway stations thronged with people.

Police on Sunday said they will fine people for travelling in and out of Tier 4 areas without a reasonable excuse, but have admitted they have no intention to set up roadblocks or routinely stop vehicles, amid warnings not to persevere with now-trashed Christmas plans.

As police forces deal with the fallout of the government’s new restrictions, extra officers were deployed at railway stations to clamp down on non-essential journeys, following crowded scenes at transport hubs in London on Saturday.

It was not just railway stations however. A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport in London noted this afternoon that the airport appeared busier than normal, though was keen to stress that they hadn’t seen people flooding the airport in the same way as train stations.

She added that it was not the responsibility of the airports to police travellers who may be breaking rules.

Scenes that have been described as a “mass exodus” on Saturday caused concern for the government, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock describing the behaviour as “totally irresponsible.” But London Mayor Sadiq Khan hit back, claiming these scenes were “a direct consequence of the chaotic way the announcement was made.”

Transport minister Grant Shapps this morning announced that extra British Transport Police officers would be deployed amid the heightened restrictions. However, a government source explained the tenor of the police presence was intended to offer advice and guidance, rather than to “intimidate” travellers.

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