UK to ban flights from Portugal and South America over new coronavirus strain
The UK banned flights from the whole of South America as well as Portugal, Panama and Cape Verde over concerns about a new variant of coronavirus that has emerged in Brazil.
Planes will be barred from landing as of 4 am UK time on Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter. The Portuguese ban is due to “its strong travel links with Brazil,” he said.
The UK is already grappling to control its own faster-spreading variant of the virus that forced the country into a third lockdown earlier this month. Thursday’s announcement came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced calls to act on the new South American strain during a meeting with lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday.
The ban adds to the woes of the aviation industry, which has already been decimated by restrictions in the UK and other countries. Passenger traffic fell 73% at London’s Heathrow airport in 2020, including an 83% drop in December. It also puts a cloud over tourism to Portugal, a popular destination for British holidaymakers and retirees.
Shapps said haulers from Portugal will be exempt from a ban on travel from the European nation, in order to allow for the transport of essential goods. Also exempt are British and Irish nationals and those from other nations with UK residence rights -- but they were told they’ll have to self-isolate for 10 days along with their households after arrival.
Johnson’s team was criticized for being slow to introduce restrictions at the UK border during the first wave of the pandemic last spring. A plan for all arriving passengers to require a negative Covid test was due to come into force on Friday but has been delayed until Jan. 18. Anyone without proof of a negative test will be fined 500 pounds ($683).
The UK outbreak has so far killed 84,767 people, and the virus has been surging since a new faster-spreading variant was discovered last month. The government is constantly reviewing its lockdown measures but Johnson and his scientific adviser on Wednesday suggested the latest rules are starting to work.
New strains are common and expected for viruses, and so far scientists have remained confident the current crop of vaccines will work against them.
A preliminary analysis found signs of the potential new variant in travelers who arrived in Japan from the Brazilian state of Amazonas. The new strain has mutations similar to those that emerged in faster-spreading variants in the UK and South Africa.
Researchers at the Brazilian research institute Fiocruz said the variant is probably recent, appearing between December 2020 and this month. “If the mutations give it any advantage in transmission, we should expect the variant to become more frequent in Brazil and around the world over the next few months,” they said.
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