Britain said on Thursday that it would ban arrivals from Latin American countries and Portugal over fears of a coronavirus variant discovered in Brazil.
In recent weeks, British authorities have already struggled to contain the spread of a different coronavirus variant discovered in Britain that is more contagious than its predecessors.
At least two coronavirus variants are currently circulating in Brazil, and at least one has slipped its borders, traveling to Japan.
Japanese authorities found one of those variants in four people traveling from Brazil earlier this week. The variant contains a mutation that has been linked with higher contagiousness, similar to the variant found in Britain and another in South Africa.
Like the variant found in South Africa, the one exported from Brazil to Japan also carries a mutation that may weaken the efficacy of vaccines. This same mutation has also been identified in the other coronavirus variant recently discovered in Brazil.
Experts have cautioned, however, that it would be very difficult for new variants of the coronavirus to evade vaccines entirely.
The British ban is set to come into effect on Friday at 4 a.m., the transportation secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter. “Travel from Portugal to the U.K. will also be suspended given its strong travel links with Brazil,” Mr. Shapps added, although truck drivers transporting essential goods from Portugal will be exempted.
Britain has already banned flights from South Africa. Brazil banned flights from Britain on Christmas Day.
British authorities have come under criticism from opposition lawmakers for delaying a travel ban from Latin America, but they have argued that implementing such measures takes time, and that travelers coming from these countries had to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival.
“What we need to ensure is that when we make these very, very important decisions that have a huge impact on people’s personal lives, but also businesses, we have got to have a little bit of time,” the Home Office junior minister Victoria Atkins said on Sky News.
In the past week, Britain has faced some of its deadliest days since the beginning of the pandemic, and health authorities have warned that the country’s health care system was on the brink of collapse. Authorities have warned that they may tighten nationwide lockdown measures if the public doesn’t stay at home.
Britain has reported nearly 85,000 deaths, the heaviest death toll in Europe.