All travel corridors will close from Monday, forcing everyone arriving in the UK to self-isolate.
The tighter border restrictions unveiled by Boris Johnson are aimed at protecting the progress made with the rollout of vaccines.
They come as new coronavirus variants continue to be found around the world and amid what Mr Johnson described as “extraordinary” pressure on the NHS.
It had already been announced everyone travelling to the UK from Monday will need to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
Under the new rules, quarantine exemptions for arrivals from certain countries will end, meaning people will also have to self-isolate on arrival for 10 days, unless they have a negative test after five days.
This will be backed by more spot checks to ensure people are remaining in self-isolation, however, people will still be allowed to use public transport to get from airports to their homes.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the suspension of travel corridors but added: “I think many people will say ‘Why on earth didn’t this happen before?’ Many countries have taken this step before we did. Right step, but slow again.
“We are still in a very serious situation, the infection rates are going up, the NHS is really struggling. Therefore everybody has to comply with the government guidance.”
The new regime will be in place until at least 15 February and the government has also said it will continue to impose flight bans from countries where new variants are formally identified.
It came as it was revealed more than 3.2 million people have been given the first dose of a vaccine – nearly one in 20.
Almost 45% of over-80s had received a jab and nearly 40% of care home residents.
However, Mr Johnson warned that “it would be fatal if this sense of progress were now to breed any kind of complacency because the pressures on our NHS are extraordinary”.
With 55,761 positive cases recorded since Thursday and 1,280 deaths, it was “not the time for the slightest relaxation of our national resolve and our individual efforts,” he said.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths globally linked to coronavirus have passed two million – just over a year since it was first identified in China.
Pressed over why the border controls were only being introduced now, Boris Johnson said: “What we’re doing now is taking steps that you’d expect to protect against the new variants because the situation now is we have a very high rate of domestic infection in the UK combined with a massive vaccination programme.”
Mr Johnson added: “At this crucial stage what we can’t have is new variants with unknown qualities coming in from abroad and that’s why we’ve set up the system to stop arrivals from places where there are new variants of concern and set up the extra tough measures that I’ve outlined.”
Chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the number of patients being admitted to hospital with coronavirus is set to peak within the next 10 days – but that the peak in deaths will be later.
He said that while it was “very likely” the outlook for the UK will improve greatly by the spring – suggesting at some point after Easter – it will not “suddenly” be “all over”.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, said travel corridors were a “lifeline” for the travel industry when they were introduced in summer 2020.
He acknowledged that “things change” and it is the correct decision to remove them, but added restrictions should be eased again “when it is safe to do so”.
Matthew Fell of the CBI said: “While done with the best of intentions this will undoubtedly come as a further blow to the aviation industry, which has already suffered significantly during the crisis, highlighting the need for targeted fiscal support.”