Brazil Covid variant: Travel to UK banned from 15 South American countries and Portugal

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Travel to the UK will be banned from 15 South American countries as well as Portugal, as fears mount about a new Covid variant that began in Brazil.

The government announced it was taking an "urgent decision" to ban flights from tomorrow over the variant – which it's feared might make vaccines less effective.

Arrivals will be banned from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela from 4am.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said travel from Portugal would be suspended "given its strong travel links with Brazil."

With a handful of exceptions, anyone who has visited or transited through any of the above countries within 10 days of travel will be barred from entering the country.

And there will be a flight ban on the above countries which operate direct flights to the UK – Argentina, Brazil, Cape Verde and Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores).

The flight ban does not include cargo and freight flights.

British and Irish nationals, longer-term visa holders and permanent residents can still enter, but must self-isolate for 10 days on arrival along with their household.

And hauliers will be allowed to travel from Portugal in order to allow transport of essential goods.

But ministers were slammed for announcing the changes 24 hours after Boris Johnson said he was concerned.

They also bizarrely delayed separate plans, to make all arrivals to England be in possession of a negative test, by three days.

The requirement for a negative test within 72 hours of travel had been due to start at 4am tomorrow, but is now 4am on Monday.

Ministers were slammed for announcing the changes almost 24 hours after Boris Johnson said he was concerned
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

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No10 later claimed it was a simply "grace period" in which travellers wouldn't be fined for failing requirements in the first three days.

Asked when Boris Johnson first became aware of the Brazil variant, his spokesman said: “We were made aware of the Brazilian variant recently – I don’t have a specific date.”

Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper slammed the testing delay as "truly shocking and incompetent".

She said: "Other countries – including France and Spain – already introduced this months ago.

"But the UK Government left it late and then failed to get the guidance done in time – even though there are real and immediate concerns about new variants circulating from South Africa and Brazil that could undermine the vaccine programme.

"The Government needs to get a grip.

"Other countries have had mandatory PCR testing, proper quarantine and other border measures in place for months while we continue to let people arrive and get on public transport home without any checks whatsoever.

Healthcare workers in Manaus, Brazil
(Image: REUTERS)

"There is no excuse for these endless delays. We need action to prevent new variants spreading to make sure they don’t undermine the vital vaccine programme.”

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The Government has lacked a comprehensive airport testing policy through this pandemic and now it is slipping into utter chaos.

"Issuing statements in the middle of the night, because their proposals are unworkable, causes ever greater challenges for travellers and industry.

"This chronic failure is also putting us at risk yet again, from strains such as those that emerged in South Africa and Brazil. As ever, ministers are too slow to act and it’s putting people at serious risk.”

It comes after travel to England from a host of southern African countries was banned due to a separate strain from South Africa.

Any visitor who has visited or transited through Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola, Seychelles and Mauritius in the last 10 days cannot come to England.

Again, there are exemptions for British nationals.

Boris Johnson yesterday said he was “concerned” about the Brazil strain, already detected in Japan.

And Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said “we don’t know” if it or the South African strain will have any resistance to a vaccine.

Sir Patrick told ITV's Peston last night: "No evidence yet for the UK version that it makes a difference in terms of how the immune system recognises it.

"And if you've been exposed to the old variant or you've had a vaccine it looks like that's going to work just as well with this new variant for the UK one.

"South African one and Brazilian one we don't know for sure – there's a bit more of a risk that this might make a change to the way the immune system recognises it, but we don't know."

The Covid-O (Operations) Committee met at lunchtime to discuss a ban.

Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said "practical measures" were being worked on.

She told Sky News: "This variant has been spotted and it is not unusual for viruses to develop variations in their strains.

"But in terms of the UK, we are monitoring it very, very carefully, we have a world-leading team of scientists working on the different forms of the virus.

"And as the Prime Minister said yesterday, in terms of practical measures, they are being worked on at the moment and no doubt we will hear more in due course as to measures to help deal with that."

Defending the Government's handling of the arrivals system before today's announcement, she went on: “People flying into the UK, whether from South America or elsewhere are required to have a 10-day quarantine period when they land in the UK.

"That is mandatory. In terms of the decision on travel measures, it takes a little bit of time.

"What we need to ensure is that when we make these very, very important decisions that have a huge impact on people's personal lives, but also businesses, we have got to have a little bit of time to let that bed in."

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