Travel to the UK from all of South America as well as Portugal will be banned from 4am on Friday because of concerns over the Brazilian variant of coronavirus, the Government has said.
Panama and Cape Verde will also be included in the ban decided by ministers on the Government's Covid-O committee on Thursday after Boris Johnson said he was "concerned" about the new strain.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the "urgent decision" to halt flights from the nations in an attempt to reduce the potential spread of the variant, with experts uncertain how effective existing vaccines will be against it.
He said travel from Portugal was being suspended because of its "strong travel links with Brazil", but there will be an exemption for hauliers travelling from Portugal to allow the transport of essential goods.
Mr Shapps also said there is an exemption for British and Irish nationals with residence rights, but that they must self-isolate for 10 days along with their households.
Mr Shapps announced the move on Twitter.
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 following evidence of a new variant in Brazil. 1/3
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) January 14, 2021
The move came 24 hours after Mr Johnson admitted he was concerned about the Brazilian variant.
After pressure from Labour’s Yvette Cooper at a liaison committee, the PM said: “We are taking steps to ensure that we do not see the import of this new variant from Brazil.”
The Government’s top scientist said the Brazilian variant contains “a change of the genetic code, at position 484, and that changes a part of the protein, it changes a bit of a shape of the protein”.
Sir Patrick Vallance told ITV’s Peston programme that there is no evidence new variants are more deadly.
He explained: “There’s no evidence at all with any of these variants that it makes the disease itself more severe.
“So the changes that we’re seeing with the variants are largely around increased transmission, it makes it easier to get it from one person to another, it makes it easier therefore to catch.”
The Government banned direct flights from South Africa when a new and concerning variant emerged there.
Labour's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds welcomed the South America travel ban but accused the Government of incompetence with another "rushed announcement".
"It is a necessary step that arrivals from Brazil, neighbouring countries and Portugal will be banned," he said.
"However, this is yet another example of Government incompetence, lurching from one crisis and rushed announcement to another.
"The failure to put in place an effective policy on testing before entry and a quarantine system that is checking only one in 100 people is putting lives at risk."