The UK has banned most people arriving from South America and Portugal under tough new measures to try to control the spread of a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Brazil.
The “urgent” ban will come into force on Friday for arrivals from 13 South American countries and territories including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Chile, transport secretary Grant Shapps said. It also includes Cape Verde, off the west coast of Africa, and Panama.
Travellers arriving from Portugal will also not be allowed into the country, given its strong travel links with Brazil “as another way to reduce the risk of importing infection”, Mr Shapps said.
UK nationals and residents are exempt from the ban, as are hauliers arriving from Portugal.
Airlines have already stopped direct flights between Brazil and the UK after the Brazilian government banned flights from the UK three weeks ago because it was worried about a strain of coronavirus first identified in Kent.
The UK stopped travellers entering from South Africa three weeks ago because of concerns about a different strain from that country.
The government kept the UK’s borders open at the start of the pandemic, but since the summer have required passengers returning from most countries to self-isolate upon arrival.
Ministers have moved to toughen entry requirements in recent weeks following the discovery of new variants of the virus in other parts of the world.
The wide-ranging travel ban announced on Friday came hours after the introduction of coronavirus testing for passengers arriving in England from abroad was delayed to allow travellers more time to prepare for the new rules.
The new system was scheduled to come into force at 4am on Friday, but has been pushed back until Monday morning.
The Department for Transport only published details of which pre-departure tests it would accept late on Wednesday, raising concerns that passengers on long-haul flights would not have enough time to source and use the approved tests before their flights.
Mr Shapps said the change was to “give international arrivals time to prepare”.
But Yvette Cooper, Labour chair of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, questioned the delay. “No guidance out with two days to go. And now delays. What on earth are they doing?” she posted on Twitter.
Arrivals into England will be asked to show proof of a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before they board planes, trains or boats destined for England, or face being denied travel, under rules set out last week. People caught arriving without a negative test result face a £500 fine.
Arrivals will still have to abide by the UK’s 10-day quarantine period, unless coming in from a small list of countries in the government’s “travel corridor”.
The pre-departure tests, which passengers must source themselves, need to meet specific sensitivity and specificity standards, and could include PCR, LAMP and antigen tests.
Anyone arriving before Monday is “under no legal obligation to get a test before you travel” but is still encouraged to be tested if possible, the DfT said.
Paul Charles, a travel industry consultant at The PC Agency, said the government was right to delay the introduction of the new rules as “more time is needed to put this into place”.
Similar testing requirements have been announced by the Scottish government and were due to come into force on Friday morning, while the government said last week it was in talks with Wales and Northern Ireland over introducing pre-departure testing for arriving passengers.