Coronavirus: UK imposes travel restrictions over worries of new COVID-19 variant

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Britain’s government has banned travel from South America and Portugal to ensure a new variant of COVID-19 found in Brazil doesn’t derail the country’s vaccination program, although there are no signs the variant has reached the UK.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the ban, which took effect Friday morning, was extended to Portugal because many people who come to Europe from South America travel through Portugal.

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“We don’t have cases at the moment, but this is a precautionary approach,” Shapps told the BBC. “We want to make sure that we do everything possible so that vaccine rollout can continue and make sure that it’s not disturbed by other variants of this virus.”

The announcement comes just a few weeks after many countries banned travel from the UK following the discovery of another variant of the virus that is more contagious than earlier varieties and has been blamed for a sharp rise in infections and deaths related to COVID-19.

There is no indication, however, that the variant reacts any differently to the vaccines.

But Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said the UK’s decision was “without logic” and said he would seek clarification from his British counterpart.

“Suspending flights from Portugal with the argument of the connections between Portugal and Brazil is, with all due respect, completely absurd,” he said in an interview published online by the newspaper Diario de Noticias.

The UK is ramping up its mass vaccination program as the government seeks to protect the country’s oldest and most vulnerable residents before easing a third national lockdown.

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More than 2.9 million people have received at least one dose of vaccine. Britain plans to give the first dose to more than 15 million people, including those over 70, frontline healthcare workers and others who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, by the middle of February.

“We’re so close now that we want to make sure we do absolutely everything possible to give us the best chance of beating this virus, which is why it’s important that we do act quickly on these things,” Shapps said.

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