(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 31, 2020, a UK border sign welcomes passengers on arrival at Heathrow airport in west London. Ben FATHERS / AFP

The United Kingdom is imposing a ban on travellers entering England from 11 African countries for an initial period of two weeks, the government has said.

In a statement on its website, the government explained that the decision was taken in a bid to prevent the spread of a new coronavirus (COVID-19) variant identified in South Africa.

While Nigeria is excluded from the list, all the affected countries are in the southern region of the continent.

They include Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Mozambique and Angola, as well as Seychelles and Mauritius.

The UK stated that new evidence has shown that there was an urgent need to halt travel from the countries, adding that entry into England would be banned to those who have travelled from or through the countries in the last 10 days (as of Thursday).

“The move, in addition to the travel ban imposed on South Africa on 23 December 2020, follows new data on the steep rise in incidence of the new variant, that has vastly increased the risk of community transmission between nine other southern African countries, as well as the Seychelles and Mauritius, which both have strong travel links with South Africa.

“Urgent restrictions are, therefore, now needed to prevent the spread of this strain in the UK. The measures will be in place for an initial period of two weeks while the scientific data and alternative ways to protect the UK and our partners in Africa are reviewed,” the statement read.

The government, however, stressed that the ban does not affect British and Irish nationals, as well as longer-term visa holders and permanent residents in the UK.

It said such persons would be able to enter but would be required to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival along with their household.

Following the ban on the countries, the UK said it has removed Botswana, Seychelles and Mauritius from its travel corridor list, with the changes taking effect from 4am on Saturday.

The statement added,

Any exemptions usually in place – including for those related to employment – will not apply and those British nationals arriving into England from the other southern African countries, Seychelles and Mauritius after 4am on Saturday 9 January cannot be released from self-isolation through Test to Release.

People sharing a household with anyone self-isolating from these countries will also have to self-isolate for 10 days.

Ministers have also removed Israel (and Jerusalem) from the government’s travel corridor list, as data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England has indicated a significant change in both the level and pace of confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The decision to remove Israel (and Jerusalem) has been made following a sustained and accelerating increase in COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of the population, similar in trajectory to the UK.

National restrictions for England introduced on 6 January 2021 remain in place meaning everyone must stay at home unless travelling for a very limited set of reasons, including for work.

This means people can no longer travel to take holidays or travel internationally unless for work or other legally permitted reasons. Those in breach of the rules face penalties starting at £200, rising to a maximum of £6,400.

People in all countries affected by the travel ban are encouraged to follow the local rules and check FCDO travel advice for further information.

All travellers, including those from exempt destinations, will still be required to show a complete passenger locator form on arrival into the UK unless they fall into a small group of exemptions.

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