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The UK government is expected to institute a travel ban on direct flights from most of South America due to a concerning new coronavirus variant from Brazil, The Times of London reported Thursday.
The variant is causing concerns over questions of whether it may be resistant to vaccines. It is typical for viruses to mutate, and variants are not necessarily more harmful.
The issue of the Brazilian variant will be discussed at the UK government’s COVID-19 operations committee meeting on Thursday, according to The Times and Sky News.
The Times said a ban on all flights from Brazil and neighboring countries Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Colombia, could be announced as soon as Friday.
According to Sky News and The Telegraph, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs on Wednesday that the government was “concerned” over the new variant, adding: “We are taking steps to ensure that we do not see the import of this new variant from Brazil.”
The Brazilian government instituted its own travel ban on the UK over Christmas, citing another coronavirus variant from the UK that has proven to be more infectious. Experts have said that COVID-19 vaccines should work against the UK variant.
According to The Times, travellers from Brazil and its neighboring countries could also be banned from flying to the UK through third-party countries such as Spain or Portugal, if they have been in South America in the 10 previous days.
But, the newspaper noted, the rule would be difficult to enforce since there are no routine checks on the “passenger locator form” that travellers have to fill out when they enter the UK, spelling out their movements prior to arrival.
UK hospitals, particularly in southern England and London, are currently struggling with the COVID-19 outbreak. Some NHS with bed shortages are starting to discharge existing patients early to make room for new admissions.