2nd LD Writethru: UK to close all travel corridors to keep out new COVID variants

LONDON, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday that Britain will close all travel corridors to the country from 0400 GMT on Monday in a bid to keep out new coronavirus variants.

Britain "will temporarily close all travel corridors from 0400 on Monday," to "protect against the risk of as yet unidentified new strains", the prime minister said at a virtual press conference at Downing Street.

The new measure means that travellers entering the country must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test in previous 72 hours.

Anyone arriving in Britain must quarantine for 10 days or they have the choice of doing an extra test on day five to shorten the isolation, Johnson said.

"What we don't want to see is all that hard work undone by the arrival of a new variant that is vaccine busting," he said.

The prime minister made the remarks after Britain on Thursday banned arrivals from South America, Portugal and some other countries over fears about a strain of the virus detected in Brazil.

The new rules will be in place until at least Feb. 15, he said.

Meanwhile, Johnson said 3.2 million people across Britain have received vaccines.

He said that his government was stepping up the enforcement of travel quarantine rules at the border and in the country.

"It's precisely because we have the hope of that vaccine and the risk of new strains coming from overseas that we must take additional steps now to stop those strains from entering the country," he said.

The pressures on the National Health Service (NHS) are "extraordinary" and it would be "fatal" to show complacency now, he said.

"This is not the time for the slightest relaxation of our national resolve," Johnson said, urging the public to stay at home.

Joining Johnson for the press conference, Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty said the coronavirus infections may have already peaked in some regions of the country.

"We are seeing some levelling off" thanks to "enormous efforts" by Britons, he said.

However, he said the peak of deaths is likely to be in the future due to the delay in hospitalization.

The British government's Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance also said the restriction measures in place must remain in place to suppress the figures.

England is currently under the third national lockdown since the outbreak of the pandemic in the country. Similar restriction measures are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Britain's coronavirus reproduction number, also known as the R number, is estimated at between 1.2 and 1.3, compared with last week's one and 1.4, the British government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said Friday.

If the R number is above one, it means the number of cases will increase exponentially.

According to SAGE, the R number varies in the country. It has gone down slightly in London, the South East and South West, as well as the North East and Yorkshire, but it has risen slightly in the East of England, Midlands and North West.

Another 55,761 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 3,316,019, according to official figures released Friday.

Another 1,280 have died within 28 days of a positive test. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 87,295, the data showed.

To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Germany, Russia and the United States have been racing against time to develop coronavirus vaccines.

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