Minister sparks fresh fears over summer holidays

Britain could use a ‘traffic light’ system for foreign travel this summer as a way to allow holidays and keep out Covid variants, a Government scientist claimed today.

Professor Andrew Hayward said summer holidays to low-risk countries could be on the cards but travel to ‘red’ nations such as South Africa and Brazil would need to be banned.

But the University College London epidemiologist, who sits on the SAGE subgroup NERVTAG, warned a combination of testing, quarantining and vaccine passports may have to be deployed to avoid importing new variants of the virus.

Professor Hayward told Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I suspect what we may end up with is some sort of traffic light system with some countries that are no-go areas, for example likely to be South Africa and South America.

‘Other areas where there will be more severe restrictions, there will be some combination of vaccine certificates, testing and maybe quarantine, and maybe there will be some low-risk countries that you can go.’ 

It came after Care Minister Helen Whately urged Britons to ‘hold off’ on booking a foreign trip this year, saying it would be ‘premature’. She echoed comments made over the weekend by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who said summer holidays were ‘potentially risky’.

Boris Johnson‘s lockdown exit roadmap states the taskforce will report on April 12 with recommendations for securing a return to foreign travel ‘as soon as possible’.  

The Government will then determine when international travel should resume but it will be ‘no earlier than 17 May’.  

A spike in coronavirus cases in some European countries and the spread of variants of the disease have sparked fears of the May 17 date being pushed back and Ms Whately today refused to be drawn on the issue.  

Meanwhile, some Tory MPs are concerned a delayed return to foreign travel could harm the vaccine roll-out because holidays abroad are the ‘main reason’ many younger people will get the jab.

Care Minister Helen Whately said it ‘feels premature’ to book an international holiday now before a Government taskforce reports with a timeline for resuming travel

A Government taskforce is considering how international travel will work and is due to report to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on April 12.

Laboratory studies have suggested that vaccines work slightly less well against some Covid-19 variants, particularly the South African version.

Professor Andrew Hayward, a scientific adviser to the Government, said summer holidays to low-risk countries could be on the cards but travel to 'red' nations such as South Africa and Brazil would need to be banned

Professor Andrew Hayward, a scientific adviser to the Government, said summer holidays to low-risk countries could be on the cards but travel to ‘red’ nations such as South Africa and Brazil would need to be banned 

But jab makers are confident their vaccines will be able to stop the vast majority of people from getting ill. Among the small number who do, experts say their illness will be reduced to something akin to a cold.

Professor Hayward added: ‘If that [South African] strain starts to become dominant in this country, that would be a very bad thing.

‘We can see in some areas of Europe it is starting to creep up from very low levels to 10-15-20 per cent (of cases) in some areas, and so that’s a worrying trend.

‘Increasing global travel will increase the spread of these variants. That’s our main threat in this whole strategy.’

It came after care minister Helen Whately said it was ‘premature’ to consider booking a holiday abroad, telling BBC Breakfast: ‘I know everybody feels like it is time for a holiday, we all need that.

‘It just so happens that when I was on holiday last August, I in fact booked my next holiday, which is a UK holiday, for later on in the summer.

‘But my advice would be to anybody right now just to hold off on booking international travel.

‘The Prime Minister launched a taskforce looking specifically at international travel that will be reporting back shortly and it just feels premature to be booking international holidays at the moment.’

Asked whether the road map target of foreign travel possibly starting up on May 17 was likely to be pushed back, Ms Whately added: ‘I don’t think it is helpful for me to say one way or the other.

‘What I would counsel is caution at the moment for people to hold off on booking because, as anybody can see, we are in a situation where there are rising rates in many countries in Europe and we know that also something that comes with rising rates is increased rates of variants, which is why it is so important that we are going to be able to test more rapidly for variants of concern, as I have outlined.’ 

Many Tory MPs believe the success of the UK’s vaccination drive should allow Brits to take holidays abroad in the not too distant future. 

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, told The Times: ‘The huge success of Britain’s vaccination programme, together with the steps taken by the travel industry, mean that British people should be able to look forward to holidays abroad this summer.

‘For many younger people, the prospect of international travel is the main reason they will have the vaccine. If travel doesn’t reopen on 17th May it will be a disaster for the one million Brits whose livelihoods depend on aviation.’  

Ms Whately’s comments came after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace yesterday warned it would be ‘potentially risky’ to book a summer holiday now.

He said the Government ‘can’t be deaf and blind to what is going on outside the United Kingdom’ and ‘we can’t put at risk’ the progress made during lockdown by being ‘reckless’ and importing coronavirus variants from abroad.  

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