Travellers from Ethiopia, Oman, Somalia and Qatar have been banned from entering England in an attempt to slow the spread of new variants of Covid-19.
The government said the moves comes at a critical time for the vaccine programme.
With over 24 million vaccinations delivered in the UK so far, officials said the decision will help to reduce the risk of new variants – such as those first identified in South Africa and Brazil – entering England.
The quarter join much of South America and Southern Africa on the so-called red list of banned countries.
As a result, visitors who have departed from or transited through these countries in the previous ten days will be refused entry into England from 04:00 on Friday.
Only British and Irish citizens, or those with residence rights (including long-term visa holders), will be allowed to enter and must stay in a government-approved facility for ten days.
During their stay, they will be required to take a coronavirus test on day two and day two.
A ban on commercial and private planes travelling from Oman, Ethiopia and Qatar will also come into force on Friday to reduce the risk of importing variants of concern.
This excludes cargo and freight without passengers.
Off the list
At the same time, Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores) and Mauritius will be removed from the red list.
A flight and maritime ban will also be removed, following evidence that shows the risk of importing a variant of concern from these destinations has reduced.
Portugal has put steps in place to mitigate the risk from its links with countries where variants have become a concern, and now has genomic surveillance in place.
This means that passengers arriving in England from these destinations will no longer be required to quarantine in a government approved facility.
However, they must self-isolate for ten days on arrival to the UK at home and take a Covid-19 test on day two and day eight and will be able to able to end self-isolation early through test to release.
Passengers from these destinations who arrived before 04:00 on Friday must stay in their hotel for the remainder of their ten-day quarantine period.
The government said it continues to work with the hospitality sector to ensure it is ready to meet any increased demand – with over 58,000 rooms on standby, which can be made available to book as needed.
British nationals currently in the countries on the red list should make use of the commercial options available if they wish to return to England.
Commercial routes that will enable British and Irish nationals and residents to return to England continue to operate.
Responding to the decision, João Fernandes, president of Algarve Tourism Bureau, said: “We are delighted with the decision to take Portugal off the red list.
“We have been able to overcome a second wave of coronavirus, to reduce the infections levels to some of the lowest in Europe.
“The Algarve has always been a favourite holiday destination with British holiday makers and this announcement is a hopeful sign that we will soon be able to welcome them back in early summer.
“The Algarve offers so much as a holiday destination and last year we were distinguished as the best beach and best golf destination in the world.”