Royal Mail has suspended deliveries to mainland Europe, Canada and Turkey after countries stopped flights and freight from the UK over fears of the new coronavirus variant.
In an update on its website, the delivery firm said the closure of the port of Dover and flight bans were causing “significant disruption” to international services.
Royal Mail said it was unclear how long this would last, and that it was “seeking alternative access points pending the opening of borders”, but in the meantime it advised customers not to attempt to send items to a long list of destinations.
It told customers: “We know how important these deliveries are to our customers and we would like to thank you for your understanding as we ask for our customers to be as patient as possible during these completely unprecedented times we are all facing. We will of course update you as soon as we can.
“We’re working with our airline and postal/courier partners across the globe to maintain services. However, delays should be expected.”
Post to the Republic of Ireland has not been affected.
Consumers had reported on Twitter that Post Offices were telling them of the international mail suspension, with one saying that the news came after they had paid for delivery.
The closure of travel routes could not have come at a worst time for delivery firms, which were already experiencing a surge in demand, accelerated by the latest restrictions on retail and travel out of tier 4 areas.
Along with deliveries for online shopping, those who are unable to travel to meet family over Christmas have turned to the postal service to deliver their presents
The firm has also brought forward its deadline for special deliveries ahead of Christmas after the introduction of tier 4 restrictions in London and parts of the south-east led to increased demand from customers.
Royal Mail said that it would no longer accept items for guaranteed special delivery on Wednesday, and that the final day for the service would be Tuesday 22 December.
It added: “While we cannot currently provide a guarantee that items posted on Wednesday 23 December will arrive prior to Christmas due to the impact of the new coronavirus restrictions, we can assure you that we will be endeavouring to deliver all items as quickly as possible. We know how important this is.
The firm said that despite its “best efforts and significant investment in extra resource” some customers may be experiencing delays.
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “In light of the changing coronavirus restrictions, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily amend our timed guarantees for our Special Delivery by 9am and 1pm services … Special Delivery Guaranteed by 9.00am and Special Delivery Guaranteed by 1.00pm items posted up to and including Tuesday 22nd December remain unchanged.”