Concerned Over Brazil Variant, UK Bans Travel From South America

Concerned Over Brazil Variant, UK Bans Travel From South America
A passenger wearing a Union Flag face mask waits to board one of the few flights departing at Gatwick Airport in London, on Nov. 27, 2020. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Simon Veazey

From tomorrow, the UK is banning travel from all South American countries, hoping to stop a new variant of the CCP virus that has emerged in Brazil.

Announcing the new restrictions, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that they do not apply to British or Irish Nationals or people with UK residency rights.

"But passengers returning from these destinations must self-isolate for TEN DAYS along with their households," he said in the announcement on Twitter.

"Travel from Portugal to the UK will also be suspended given its strong travel links with Brazil—acting as another way to reduce the risk of importing infections," said Shapps. "However, there is an exemption for hauliers travelling from Portugal (only), to allow transport of essential goods."

In addition to all countries in South America, the list also includes neighbouring Panama.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier this week that he was very concerned about the Brazil variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as novel coronavirus.

Unlike the variant currently thought to be pushing a surge of the pandemic in the UK, there is not yet any evidence of faster transmission in the Brazil variant.

However, scientists are concerned that it appears to be similar to the variant which emerged in South Africa, which scientists are concerned about.

“The Brazilian variant has three key mutations in the Spike receptor-binding domain (RBD) that largely mirror some of the mutations we are worried about it in the South African variant, hence the concern," said Prof. Ravi Gupta, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Cambridge.

"The SARS-CoV-2 RBD is one of the main targets for our immune defences and also the region targeted by vaccines and changes within this region are therefore worrisome.  Vaccines are still likely to be effective as a control measure if coverage rates are high and transmission is limited as far as possible.”

The announcement of the travel ban from South America comes with the government accused of dragging its feet over travel restrictions.

Today, Shapps announced that the introduction of mandatory pre-travel COVID-19 tests had been postponed until Monday.

Within the three-day period before boarding trains, planes, or boats bound for England, passengers must take a test for the CCP virus.

They must present proof of a negative test to their carrier.

The Department for Transport has now also issued full public guidance, including which types of tests are acceptable.

Such tests include PCR and LAMP tests, which detect key chemical markers, and antigen tests from lateral flow devices.

Specifically, the tests are required to have “≥97% specificity, [and] ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml.”

The government says the new requirements, which also apply to UK passport holders, will help stem the influx of new strains of the CCP virus.

On top of the new measures, arrivals from countries outside the “air corridor” list will still have to quarantine for 10 days.

Transport operators will also be fined if they are found to have transported passengers who have not followed the rules.

England’s new rules will not affect travellers from other parts of the UK (which can set their own travel restrictions) or from Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey, or Guernsey.

Children under the age of 11 are exempt.

The government said that the “very restricted number” of other exemptions includes flight crews and employees manning boats and trains.

Simon Veazey is a UK-based journalist who has reported for The Epoch Times since 2006 on various beats, from in-depth coverage of British and European politics to web-based writing on breaking news.