Travel from Brazil and other South American countries to the UK will be banned from Friday in response to a new variant of coronavirus, the government has announced.
Flights from Portugal to the UK will also be suspended “given its strong travel links with Brazil”, transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Thursday.
But Boris Johnson has been accused of acting far too slowly to prevent it from making its way to the UK.
The existence of the variant was revealed on Sunday, having been identified by Japan in four travellers returning from Brazil.
The new rules 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
Yvette Cooper, the Labour chair of the Commons home affairs committee, on Wednesday demanded to know why the prime minister had not taken “immediate action”.
“You were warned about the Brazil variant three days ago. We don’t know, yet, whether that variant could undermine the vaccination programme,” she said.
Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem transport spokesperson, said the government had again “missed the opportunity to help stem the spread of Covid-19”.
“They’ve delayed action on cutting travel between the UK and South America, risking the arrival of the new variant. Brazil has already stopped flights from the UK arriving there,” she said.
The government has also announced the new rules requiring travellers arriving in England to have a negative coronavirus test have been delayed from Friday until Monday “to give international arrivals time to prepare”.
A ban on people travelling to the UK from South Africa and other neighbouring countries is already in place following the discovery of a separate new variant of coronavirus there.
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.