Dominic Raab has announced the British government is advising all UK citizens against “non-essential travel globally” amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The foreign secretary revealed the measure in the Commons on Tuesday afternoon and said it would remain in place for an “initial period” of 30-days.
The government is not yet advising British people to immediately return to the UK if they are overseas.
But the Foreign Office (FCO) said people should keep in mind that flights may be cancelled at short notice or other travel restrictions may be put in place by foreign governments.
Meanwhile, the leaders of European Union nations have agreed to institute a travel ban that prohibits most foreigners from entering the bloc for 30 days to discourage the spread of coronavirus.
“UK travellers abroad now face widespread international border restrictions and lockdowns in various countries,” Raab said.
“This decision has been taken based on the domestic measures introduced in the UK alongside the changes to border and a range of other restrictions which are now being taken right around the world.
“The speed and the range of those measures across other countries is unprecedented, some of those decisions are being made without notice.”
He added: “The FCO will always consider the safety and the security of British nationals so with immediate effect I’ve taken the decision to advise British nationals against non-essential travel globally for an initial period of 30 days and of course subject to ongoing review.”
It came as a team of scientists said the UK had “no time to lose” in changing tactics in order to prevent thousands of deaths and the NHS being overwhelmed,
The Imperial College Covid-19 response team – which is one of several teams advising ministers – published a paper showing that 250,000 people could die if efforts were focused only on delaying and slowing down the spread of Covid-19.
The paper analysed the most up-to-date data from Italy and the UK and concluded that the only “viable strategy” was a Chinese-style policy of “suppression” of the virus, elements of which have now been adopted in the UK.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) special envoy on coronavirus welcomed the government’s decision to introduce tougher measures. Dr David Nabarro told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that previous thinking was “perfectly valid, however as it became clear how quickly the virus has been advancing in other European countries a shift in position was absolutely right”.
Later today, chancellor Rishi Sunak will set out a new package of support for businesses hit by the outbreak less than a week after announcing £12bn of emergency funding in the Budget.
The government will also lay out emergency legislation expected to include powers for police to detain people to stop them spreading the virus and allowing hospitals to send patients home to free up beds.
UK airports have warned they will shut down “within weeks” without government intervention due to the coronavirus.