UK bans arrivals from Brazil, Portugal and 14 other countries due to new Covid strain

14 January 2021, 16:04 | Updated: 14 January 2021, 16:35

A tourist wears a face mask while visiting Christ the Redeemer
A tourist wears a face mask while visiting Christ the Redeemer. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Travel to the UK from Brazil, Portugal and 14 other countries has been banned after a new variant of coronavirus was discovered.

Travel to the UK from all of South America as well as Portugal will be banned from 4am on Friday because of concerns over the Brazilian variant of coronavirus, the Government has said.

Panama and Cape Verde will also be included in the ban decided by ministers on the Government's Covid-O committee on Thursday after Boris Johnson said he was "concerned" about the new strain.

Read more: Previous Covid infection provides some immunity 'for up to five months'

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the "urgent decision" to halt flights from the nations in an attempt to reduce the potential spread of the variant, with experts uncertain how effective existing vaccines will be against it.

He said travel from Portugal was being suspended because of its "strong travel links with Brazil", but there will be an exemption for hauliers travelling from Portugal to allow the transport of essential goods.

Mr Shapps also said there is an exemption for British and Irish nationals with residence rights, but that they must self-isolate for 10 days along with their households.

Scientists analysing the Brazilian variant believe the mutations it shares with the new South African strain seem to be associated with a rapid increase in cases in locations where previous attack rates are thought to be very high.

In a tweet, the Transport Secretary wrote: "I’ve taken the urgent decision to BAN ARRIVALS from ARGENTINA, BRAZIL, BOLIVIA, CAPE VERDE, CHILE, COLOMBIA, ECUADOR, FRENCH GUIANA, GUYANA, PANAMA, PARAGUAY, PERU, SURINAME, URUGUAY AND VENEZUELA – from TOMORROW, 15 JAN at 4AM following evidence of a new variant in Brazil.

"Travel from PORTUGAL to the UK will also be suspended given its strong travel links with Brazil – acting as another way to reduce the risk of importing infections. However, there is an exemption for hauliers travelling from Portugal (only), to allow transport of essential goods.

"This measure does not apply to British and Irish Nationals and third country nationals with residence rights – but passengers returning from these destinations must self-isolate for TEN DAYS along with their households."

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that new rules requiring travellers arriving in England to have a negative coronavirus test have been delayed "to give international arrivals time to prepare".

The requirement for passengers arriving in England by boat, train or plane - including UK nationals - to test negative for Covid up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure was due to come into force at 4am on Friday.

But it has been pushed back until the same time on Monday, amid concern that guidance on which tests would be accepted had not been published early enough.

Travellers will need to present proof of a negative test result to their carrier on boarding, while the UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrivals.

New arrivals who flout the rules will face a minimum £500 fine while the operator who transported them will also be fined.

Passengers will still have to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their test results.

Travellers will have to take an internationally approved test, and guidance released by the Department for Transport said they could include PCR tests, nasal and throat swab tests, which take between 12 and 24 hours to return results.

Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) tests, which can return results in two to three hours, and lateral flow tests, which generate results in less than 30 minutes, are also acceptable.

Results can be produced as physical documents or by email or text but must be in English, French or Spanish. Translations will not be accepted.

British nationals attempting to return home who test positive must not travel and must follow the local guidance in their host country, and contact the nearest consulate if they need support.

Scotland is taking the same approach to international travellers and has also delayed the policy until Monday.

Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to announce their own plans for pre-arrival testing in the coming days.