Britain will ban arrivals from South American countries and Portugal because of concerns over a new Brazilian variant of the coronavirus, transport minister Grant Shapps said on Thursday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed concern about the Brazilian variant on Wednesday and Britain is already trying to contain a UK variant behind a surge in cases at the end of last year.
The Brazilian variant shares some characteristics with those found in Britain and South Africa, which are believed by scientists to be more transmissible but not to cause more severe disease.
“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 (0400 GMT) following evidence of a new variant in Brazil,” Shapps wrote on Twitter.
Portugal was also added to the list because of close travel links with Brazil, he said. Workers transporting essential good from Portugal would be exempt.
Attempts to contain variants of the coronavirus have created new barriers to travel, with many countries – including Brazil in December – already introducing restrictions on travel from Britain to try to contain the UK variant.
Shapps said the new measures would not apply to British and Irish nationals and third-country nationals with residence rights, but passengers returning from those destinations must self-isolate for 10 days.
Under terms of a national lockdown for England introduced last week, international travel is already not allowed anywhere except for work and other limited reasons.
On Sunday, Japan said the variant had been found in four travellers from Brazil’s Amazonas state.
Britain’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said on Wednesday the Brazilian variant looked similar to the South African one, and that more work needed to be done to establish the efficacy of vaccines against those variants.
The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine appears effective against a key mutation found in the UK and South African variants, a study found last week, but it did not address an additional mutation found in the South African variant.