Travel from India into the UK is being banned for all non-UK and Irish citizens from 4am on Friday after the country was added to the travel “red list”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the “vital but difficult” decision has been made due to a new COVID variant first identified in India.
According to figures from the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), which tracks COVID variants, 182 cases of the India variant have so far been found in the UK.
Of those, 162 cases have been found in the last five weeks.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Hancock told MPs: “We’ve been analysing samples from these cases to see if this variant has any concerning characteristics – like greater transmissibility or resistance to treatments and vaccines – meaning it has to be treated as a variant of concern.
This comes after the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been forced to cancel his forthcoming India trip as a result of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic within the country.
“After studying the data and on a precautionary basis, we’ve made the difficult but vital decision to add India to the red list.”
The health secretary said the “vast majority” of cases of the so-called India variant are linked to international travel and have been picked up by border testing.
The decision to place India on the travel “red list” means anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen cannot enter the UK if they’ve been in India in the previous 10 days.
And, for those UK and Irish residents and British citizens who have been in India in the past 10 days, they will have to complete a 10-day hotel quarantine period on their arrival in the UK.
The rules will come into force from 4am on Friday.
Mr Hancock added: “India is a country I know well and love. Between our two countries we have ties of friendship and family.
“I understand the impact of this decision, but I hope the House will concur we must act because we must protect the progress we have made in this country in tackling this awful disease.”
This comes after the prime minister has faced repeated quizzing from MPs about the lobbying row that has engulfed David Cameron, his Prime Ministerial predecessor, and has also dragged in some former and current ministers and government officials.
The health secretary was unable to confirm whether the UK’s existing vaccines would be effective against the India variant, telling MPs: “We simply don’t know that.”
“Of course we’re looking into that question as fast as possible but that is the core of my concern about the variant first found in India, is that the vaccines may be less effective in terms of transmission and, or in terms of reducing hospitalisation and death,” he added.
“It is the same concern that we have with the variant first found in South Africa and is the core reason why we took the decision today.”
But Mr Hancock reassured MPs that the government was “ramping up plans for a booster shot to make sure our vaccines stay ahead of the virus”.