This Morning: Simon Calder discusses summer holidays
The Prime Minister admitted that rising coronavirus cases in Europe meant “things certainly look difficult for the time being”. He said he hoped to give more information about foreign travel on April 5, a week before the Government’s global travel task force is due to report. He told a No10 news conference: “A lot of people do want to know about what’s going to happen on the holiday front and I know there’s a great deal of curiosity and interest.
“All I can say is it’s just too early to say. We’ve heard already that there are other European countries where the disease is now rising so things certainly look difficult for the time being, but we will be able to say more we hope in a few days’ time, I certainly hope by April 5.”
Under the current roadmap for easing restrictions, the earliest date people in England could go on holiday abroad would be May 17.
But a senior scientific adviser has suggested people should plan to holiday in the UK this summer.
Prof Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the first lockdown last March, said relaxing border measures too early risked the success of the vaccination programme.
He said the risk from Europe is the arrival of new variants, or importing the troubling South African variant from countries where cases are rising.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “We have some of the South African variant here already and other variants which may be similar, which why we’re watching very carefully, so that is overall the major concern going forward and why we need to be vigilant, not just looking at Europe, and what’s happening within our borders as well.”
A senior scientific adviser has suggested people should plan to holiday in the UK this summer
Prof Ferguson said the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines “might drop substantially, 60 percent or 50 percent” in the face of variants.
“And what that means is if we then allow transmission to resume, which it is likely to do as we relax social distancing measures, we have that faint risk of being back in a situation where we have rising infections, rising hospitalisations with people who have been vaccinated.
“And back to, in the worst case, where we were in January. So, the effectiveness, exactly how effective vaccines is, is very critical to how quickly we’re able to relax measures.”
Asked if he was in favour of keeping borders closed, he said: “I am in favour of relaxing border measures at a slower rate than we relax controls within the country, and doing all we can to reduce the risk of importation of variants which might undermine our vaccination programme.”
Asked what he wanted to see, he said “vaccinating everybody under 50, which will be late summer, and having vaccines in our stockpile which we know work very effectively against those variants.
“Conservatively, and being risk averse at the moment, I think we should be planning on summer holidays in the UK, not overseas.”
The PM admitted that rising Covid cases in Europe meant ‘things look difficult for the time being’
He said he was against most people travelling to and from France at the moment on essential business or for commerce being exempt from quarantine and testing measures.
“I think we need to reconsider that, not the quarantine bit, but for instance introducing testing of everybody coming back, including those essential workers.”
Holidaymakers hopes for a summer abroad were also dealt a blow yesterday when British Airways and easyJet scrapped more flights.
The cancellations include trips for July and August, when foreign holidays were expected to have resumed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock reaffirmed the ban on leaving England could be eased from May 17, in line with the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
He also said there were no plans for travellers from Europe to be added to Britain’s travel “red-list” with mandatory quarantine in hotels on arrival despite a third Covid-19 wave sweeping through the continent.
He said: “We don’t rule it out but we don’t have plans to do that now.
“We’ve got to protect this country and the progress that we’ve made, but at the same time I totally understand that lots of people want to travel abroad this summer.”
EasyJet and BA insisted the flight schedule changes were “business as usual” and not a response to the rising infections on the continent.
They include fewer flights to Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden with bosses saying it reflected the view of IATA, the airline trade body, that foreign travel will not resume to pre-pandemic levels until 2023.
British Airways said: “We are sorry that, like other airlines, due to the pandemic and global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule.”
EasyJet said: “We continue to review our schedule on an ongoing basis to align our flying programme with customer demand and government travel restrictions.”
Ministers will introduce a £5,000 fine for anyone who travels abroad without a reasonable excuse, such as attending a funeral, from next week.
It followed a suggestion from Health Minister Lord Bethell that all of Europe could be put on “red list” although he said: “That would be done with huge regret.”