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By Julia Symmes Cobb

BOGOTA, Colombia, Mon. Dec. 21, 2020 (Reuters) – Colombia has become the first South American country to suspend all flights to the United Kingdom over concerns about a new strain of coronavirus.

President Ivan Duque made the disclosure on Sunday, joining a growing list of countries barring British travelers.

Authorities in the Andean country, which surpassed 1.5 million confirmed cases on Sunday, have repeatedly warned against large Christmas gatherings and crowds as cases have ticked up following the start of the holiday season.

“From tomorrow flights from Colombia to the United Kingdom and from the United Kingdom to Colombia are suspended,” Duque said after a visit to the Caribbean island of Providencia.

“Anyone who arrives in the country from tomorrow who has been in the United Kingdom in the last 14 days will enter a 14-day isolation in our country.”

The decision was a “preventative” measure meant to stop the spread of the new strain in Colombia, he added.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday the new strain had led to spiraling infection numbers. His government tightened its COVID-19 restrictions for London and nearby areas, and also reversed plans to ease restrictions over the Christmas period.

Countries including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, El Salvador, Iran and others have placed restrictions on British travellers and flights in response to Johnson’s announcement.

Daily confirmed coronavirus cases in Colombia hit a new record on Saturday, with 13,990 recorded. More than 40,000 people in the country have died from the virus.

Colombian officials have urged people to avoid peak shopping times and celebrate holidays with only their household.

Bogota’s mayor Claudia Lopez said on Sunday the city would return to previous restrictions which allow just one person per household to go shopping and restrict entrance to stores. The measure will begin Monday and last through Jan. 15.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; editing by Richard Pullin)

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