Travel from Brazil to the UK could be banned in response to a new strain of coronavirus in the South American country.

Ministers on the Government’s “Covid-O” committee that oversees restrictions met on Thursday and discussed “urgent measures” to reduce the threat from the variant.

An announcement was expected to follow, but it has been reported that flights from Brazil’s 10 neighbouring countries – including Argentina and Peru – could also be halted.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Ministers have met this morning to consider urgent measures to reduce the potential spread to the UK of the Brazilian variant.”

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced that new rules requiring travellers arriving in England to have a negative coronavirus test have been delayed “to give international arrivals time to prepare”.

The requirement for passengers arriving in England by boat, train or plane – including UK nationals – to test negative for Covid up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure was due to come into force at 4am on Friday.

But it has been pushed back until the same time on Monday, amid concern that guidance on which tests would be accepted had not been published early enough.

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, described the delay in introducing the new rules as “truly shocking”.

She wrote on Twitter on Thursday night: “Questioned PM repeatedly today on why border testing/quarantine is weaker than other countries.

“Repeatedly he said Government is bringing in new testing (months later than elsewhere but due Friday).

“But now it’s not. More delays. As they haven’t published guidance in time.”

Sir Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer talks to Ruby Byers before she receives the first of two Covid-19 vaccination shots in Stevenage (Leon Neal/PA)

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the situation was another “complete mess”.

“Yet again we’ve got a Prime Minister and a Government that’s late, slow and even now, at the 11th hour, they’re putting testing back another few days” he told reporters during a visit to a mass vaccination centre in Stevenage.

“I think people will be bewildered and they will feel that we’re exposed – there’s a gap in our defences. We can’t go on like this with delayed decisions not being made in a competent way.”

Downing Street defended the delay, with the Prime Minister’s spokesman saying the testing law would come into place on Friday as planned but that a “grace period” would allow passengers “a little bit more time” to get the tests required.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “This saga is yet another lesson to Government that it takes time to implement major changes to border controls and they can’t be rushed through.

“Consumers have been panicking, and tour operators and airlines inundated with inquiries, since the initial leak about the plans.

“The Government cannot keep creating confusion when it comes to travel restrictions – there needs to be clarity to help build confidence in a sector still struggling to rebuild due to the lockdowns.”

Travellers will need to present proof of a negative test result to their carrier on boarding, while the UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrivals.

New arrivals who flout the rules will face a minimum £500 fine, while the operator who transported them will also be fined.

Passengers will still have to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their test results.

Travellers will have to take an internationally approved test, and guidance released by the Department for Transport said they could include PCR tests, nasal and throat swab tests which take between 12 and 24 hours to return results.

Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) tests, which can return results in two to three hours, and lateral flow tests, which generate results in less than 30 minutes, are also acceptable.

Results can be produced as physical documents or by email or text, but must be in English, French or Spanish. Translations will not be accepted.

British nationals attempting to return home who test positive must not travel and must follow the local guidance in their host country, and contact the nearest consulate if they need support.

Scotland is taking the same approach to international travellers but will implement the policy on Friday.

Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to announce their own plans for pre-arrival testing in the coming days.