U.K. bans Travelers from South America and Portugal Over New Variant

The U.K. government has banned travelers from South America and Portugal from arriving in the country from Friday morning to stop a Brazilian variant of COVID-19 from reaching the country.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps took to Twitter to announce the change.

He said: "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 U.K. 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."

The measures do not apply to British and Irish nationals and third country nationals with residency rights, however those returning from the affected countries have been told they must isolate for 10 days.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons Liaison Committee that he was "very concerned about the new variant identified in Brazil." Labour member of Parliament (MP) Yvette Cooper asked the prime minister why the U.K. had not imposed travel restrictions on those coming into the country from Brazil.

She said: "You were warned about the Brazil variant three days ago. We don't know, yet, whether that variant could undermine the vaccination program. So why aren't you taking immediate action, on a precautionary basis?"

Without wanting to give a definitive answer, Johnson was clear that something would change with travel but there were still many things they did not know. Johnson said: "We are putting in extra measures to ensure that people coming from Brazil are checked and indeed stopping people coming from Brazil.

"There are lots of questions we still have about that variant, we don't know, for instance, any more than we know whether the South African variant is vaccine-resistant."

Meanwhile, pre-departure COVID-19 testing for people arriving into England will now take place from 04:00 GMT on Monday, despite initially being planned to come into effect from Friday.

The prime minister said the government was "stopping people coming from Brazil"

The government said people needed more time to prepare. Passengers arriving by boat, plane or train, including U.K. nationals, will have to take a test 72 hours before their departure. Those arriving from countries that are not on the U.K.'s travel corridor list must still self-isolate for 10 days.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, also reminded people via his Twitter account to complete a passenger locator form before arriving back in England, saying: "Anyone WITHOUT proof of a negative test faces a £500 ($680) fine."

It comes as the U.K. death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000, with 1,564 deaths being recorded yesterday, the highest figure reported in a single day since the pandemic began. Dr. Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said there have now been more deaths in the second wave than the first.

High street pharmacies in the U.K. will also now begin rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, as the country aims to vaccinate 15 million people, including the over-70s, healthcare workers and those required to shield by mid-February. The prime minister has pledged to make the vaccines available 24/7, as soon as the government can. More than 2.6 million people in the U.K. have now received their first dose of a vaccine.