All travel corridors with the UK will be suspended for the next four weeks, the Prime Minister has announced, as ministers scramble to prevent new mutations entering the country.
Speaking at today’s Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson said all countries will be removed from the quarantine-free travel list from 4am on Monday morning.
Travellers arriving into any of the UK’s four nations must now provide a negative test pre-departure, followed by a second test after self-isolating for five days.
Those who flout quarantine rules will “face substantial fines for refusing to comply”, the PM announced.
It comes after the transport secretary yesterday banned all flights into the UK from South America and Portugal over concerns about a new Brazilian variant of coronavirus.
“It’s precisely because we have the hope of the vaccine and the risk of new strains coming from overseas that we must take additional steps now to stop those strains from entering the country,” Johnson said.
“Yesterday we announced that we’re banning flights from South America and Portugal, to protect us against the risk of as yet unidentified new strains. We will also temporarily close travel corridors,” he added.
Two million people have died of Covid-19 globally.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry association representing UK-registered carriers, praised the move, saying: “There’s no doubting this is a serious health emergency and ministers need to act to keep borders safe and the public protected.
“We therefore support this latest measure, on the assumption that we will work with government — when the time is right — to remove these restrictions when it is safe to do so and start to open up our sector again, to support the UK’s economic recovery.”
However head of the pilots union Balpa Brian Strutton said it was another “huge blow” to the aviation sector and wanted a plan to help the sector through the crisis.
“These are dire times and we need a clear plan of action and a proper package of support or the UK aviation industry will not be there to support the post COVID-19 recovery.”
It comes after a leading UK scientist this morning announced that one of two Brazilian coronavirus mutations had already arrived in the UK, before later clarifying that it was “not the variant of concern”.
Speaking during a Science and Media Centre briefing, Professor Wendy Barclay said: “There are two different types of Brazilian variant and one of them has been detected in the UK.
“In the databases, if you search the sequences, you will see that there is some some evidence for variants from around the world, and I believe including the Brazilian one, which probably was introduced some time ago. And that will be being traced very carefully,” she said.
Read more: Covid mutations: what we know so far
The government this morning announced a new national research project to study the effects of emerging Covid mutations, with £2.5m of funding from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
The G2P Group will identify which variants might cause problems before they become prevalent in the community.
The PM said there were “tentative” signs that areas such as London are beginning to see a reduction in cases, after figures released today showed the capital now has the lowest rate of infection in the country.
Johnson said “tentative signs” of a slowdown in cases aren’t a free pass to ignore current restrictions.
“This is not a natural peak that’s going to come down on its own — it’s coming down because of the current measures,” said Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser.
“Take the lid off and it will boil over again,” he added.