Ministers and scientists have cautioned against the travel industry’s hopes of wholesale resumption of international leisure travel this summer owing to the risk posed by new variants of Covid-19 to the UK’s vaccination programme.
Mike Tildesley, a member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, which reports to the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday (20 March) there was a danger holidaymakers could import new variants resistant to current vaccines.
"I think international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think, extremely unlikely," said Tildesley. "I think we are running a real risk if we do start to have lots of people going overseas in July, for instance, and August because of the potential for bringing more of these new variants back into the country.
"What is really dangerous is if we jeopardise our vaccination campaign by having these variants, where the vaccines don’t work as effectively, spreading more rapidly."
Transport secretary Grant Shapps reiterated it was "too early to tell" when overseas holidays would be allowed. The government is currently working to an "at the very earliest" 17 May date for a resumption of international travel, pending a review by the Global Travel Taskforce due on 12 April.
More than half of all UK adults have now received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, health secretary Matt Hancock said on Friday (19 March), with new records set at the weekend for the number of doses administered in a single day.
Hancock said people must be patient and vigilant, stressing the taskforce would make a judgement on how travel could be restarted safely and when, adding it would work with the industry to do so. "That’s a judgement that we should make in a few weeks time, not now," he told Sky News.