The government has banned all travel to the UK from several South and Central American countries, as well as from Portugal and Cape Verde, “in response to new evidence highlighting the likely spread of a new coronavirus variant in South America”.

The move – which was announced yesterday and took effect at 0400 this morning (Friday January 15), sees travel to the UK banned for passengers who have been in or transited through Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Paraguay, Panama, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela in the last ten days.

British and Irish Nationals, and or third country nationals with residence rights in the UK, will be exempt from the ban, although there will be a ban on all direct passenger flights from these countries to the UK. This covers existing services from Argentina, Brazil, Cape Verde and Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores). Note also that any arrivals will have to self-isolate for ten days, and will not be allowed to be released from self-isolation through the Test to Release scheme.

As part of the move, existing travel corridor agreements with Chile, Madeira and the Azores have been closed.

Hauliers who have been in or transited through Portugal in the last ten days will be exempt to allow transport of essential goods, but there will be no other exemptions related to employment.

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps is quoted by the BBC as saying that as holidays from the UK are not currently permitted, he did not “expect a large number of Brits to have jaunted off to South America”, and the government was “not expecting to see a big repatriation issue as a result”.

This week the government also published details of the Covid-19 testing requirements which will come into force for arrivals into England from next week.

For arrivals from 0400 on January 18, travellers must present proof of a negative test result before boarding, and be prepared to show this evidence on arrival or risk a £500 fine.

Government outlines Covid-19 testing requirements for entry into England