The COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, and one of its variants has now been discovered in Brazil, which has sparked the United Kingdom to ban travel from South America, Panama, Cape Verde and Portugal.
Grant Shapps, the U.K.’s transport minister, said that Portugal was included despite it not having a geographical connection with Brazil “given its strong travel links” with the country.
This variant was detected in Japan after travelers from the Brazilian state of Amazonas, which is in the northwest corner of that country, arrived in Tokyo on Jan. 2 with symptoms such as difficulty breathing, a headache and a sore throat.
Four people, including one who was asymptomatic, subsequently tested positive for COVID-19 but with a variant that had not been seen in Japan or anywhere else.
Scientists are concerned that this variant may be more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus and be similar to the variants that have been discovered in the U.K. and South Africa in that regard. They are also unsure at this early stage if vaccines will be effective against it.
The ban that the U.K. has put into place started at 4 a.m. on Jan. 15, the day after Shapps announced it.
He added at the time that those hauling goods or materials from Portugal that are deemed to be essential are exempted from this ban. British and Irish citizens and permanent residents of the U.K. returning home are exempted as well. However, those in the latter group must quarantine for 10 days after arrival.
Augusto Santos Silva, Portugal’s foreign minister, was displeased with the decision, stating that it was “completely absurd” and that he and other Portuguese officials “don’t understand what it is based on.”
He added that his country had not banned British travelers after a more infectious strain had been discovered in the U.K.