Environment secretary George Eustace has told Sky News the government has considered a full closure of the country’s borders to guard against the import of new strains of coronavirus.
Eustace said there remained a real risk of a new strain of the virus "evading" vaccines, and stressed that while he recognised the country’s tough Covid restrictions were putting people’s summer holiday plans on hold or even in jeopardy, ministers couldn’t rule out any options.
When pressed by presenter Gillian Joseph on reports government was considering a full border closure, Eustace said: "We always keep these things under review and it’s been considered.
"There is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains there are, different strains of this coronavirus are cropping up in other countries, [and there are] concerns that there is a risk that one day there will be a strain that might be able to evade the vaccine.
"That’s why, last week, the prime minister toughened up the current restrictions, which requires a test before people travel [to the UK] and then they must quarantine while they’re here.
"There are now no exemptions from that policy. So we’ve already toughened it up and we think that’s the right approach for now but obviously, everything’s always kept under review."
The subject of foreign holidays was put to home secretary Priti Patel at the government’s latest coronavirus briefing on Thursday (21 January), with Patel refusing to be drawn on whether people should book summer holidays or not.
Joseph put it to Eustace that with many people looking to plan and book their summer holidays, particularly those on lower incomes paying in instalments, guidance on whether they will be able to get away or not would likely come "very late".
"We absolutely recognise people’s lives are on hold in some ways," said Eustace. "Nobody can quite see where we will be by the summer, but what they can see is the pace at which we are rolling out the vaccine, [and that] there is light at the end of the tunnel.
"Once we get all vulnerable cohorts vaccinated and start to move down the age ranges in late spring, early summer, I really think it will be possible to return to life much closer to normal.
"It won’t be entirely normal initially, but we will be able to come out of the lockdown and start living life again."