All the remaining “travel corridors”, which allow travellers arriving in the UK to avoid self-isolation, have been scrapped in a bid to reduce the risk of introducing new variants of the coronavirus.
Both measures take effect at 4am on Monday 18 January. The travel corridors decision will be reviewed four weeks later, on 15 February.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, tweeted: “Travel corridors assess public health risk from the original Sars-Cov-2, but it’s impossible for the Joint Biosecurity Centre to provide live scientific updates to predict which countries or regions will now originate new variants.
“Travel corridors are therefore suspended for now.”
Arrivals from Ireland, which is within the Common Travel Area, continue to be exempt.
Earlier in the day, Mr Shapps revealed that only one in 1,000 of the Covid infections in the UK in December was imported.
The Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said: “I’m pleased the decision has been made, but many people will say, ‘Why on earth didn’t this happen before?’
“Many countries have taken this step before we did. So, right steps, but slow again.”
Targeted quarantine measures were abandoned by the UK in mid-March 2020.
In June, blanket quarantine was introduced for travellers from all locations except Ireland. All arrivals were obliged to undergo two weeks of self-isolation.
One month later, the all-out ban was overturned and travel corridors were established for dozens of popular countries. But these quickly started to be reversed.
In December, the self-isolation time was cut to 10 days. A “test-to-release” system was introduced in England, allowing travellers to halve quarantine if they tested negative after five days.
Last Monday the key aviation hubs in the UAE – Dubai and Abu Dhabi – lost their travel corridor status. By Thursday night, nearby Qatar was removed from the “safe” list.
Numerous nations in Asia and the Pacific region retain travel corridor status, including Australia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
But most of the arrangements are largely academic because the countries in question ban almost all British visitors, as do the three European “survivors” – Finland, Iceland and Norway.
The latest change’s main effect on holidaymakers is likely to be on British travellers who got away for longer trips to the Caribbean islands of Antigua, Barbados, Cuba and St Lucia before the third lockdown began.
On return to the UK, they will need to self-isolate for 10 days – reduced to five days if they pay for a second test that then proves negative.
With all four UK nations in lockdown, leisure travel is currently banned. The travel industry has virtually closed down.
A spokesperson for easyJet, Britain’s biggest budget airline, said: “We are already flying a significantly reduced schedule on mostly domestic routes and so this decision doesn’t have an impact right now.
“We need to ensure that travel corridors are put back in place when it is safe to do so.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: “The transport secretary confirmed this morning that very few Covid infections were brought into the UK from overseas last month, so blanket quarantine only serves to prevent recovery in the travel sector.
“World-class, regular testing is the answer to reducing infections. The government needs to invest further to deliver what it promised many months ago.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said carriers supported the move “on the assumption that we will work with government – when the time is right – to remove these restrictions when it is safe to do so”.
Joss Croft, the chief executive of UKInbound, said: “To save the summer season, it’s imperative that government signals that these new measures are only temporary.”
Government sources indicate that more spot checks will be carried out to ensure people are remaining in self-isolation as required by quarantine rules.
The transport secretary revealed earlier that only about 3 per cent of travellers arriving in England were subsequently contacted by Public Health England.