As coronavirus case rates and deaths continue to decline in the UK following stringent lockdown measures, the prime minister has announced he will lay out a “roadmap” of how restrictions will be gradually eased.
“Science is now unquestioningly in the ascendancy over the disease,” Boris Johnson stated at a press conference on 15 February.
“We want this lockdown to be the last. We want progress to be cautious but irreversible.”
He added that the government wanted to set out a “realistic” timetable of lifting restrictions, and said the full plan would be set out on Monday 22 February.
Could this mean domestic travel is back on the cards? Here’s what we know so far.
What is likely to be announced on 22 February?
Johnson is set to unveil a road map for lifting lockdown restrictions in England today, with a “cautious” plan that will see families reunited and children returning to schools.
He will share his finalised plan with ministers before revealing it to MPs this afternoon. He will then hold a news conference at 7pm GMT to discuss the plan.
Under the plan, it is understood that all schools in England will reopen on 8 March, while up to six people or two households will meet outdoors from 29 March.
Non-essential shops being allowed to open and the rules on outdoor recreation and socialising being eased are reportedly the next priority.
Projected dates for the reopening of the hospitality sector have ranged from Easter weekend (3-4 April) to May – but it could be that only outdoor venues can open initially.
However, most dates being touted are speculation at the moment.
What has the government said about domestic holidays?
Messaging has been somewhat mixed, but the overarching theme is that it’s too soon to say. In the most ambitious timeline for reopening the country, domestic self-catering holidays could restart from April.
Ministers are reportedly assessing whether self-catered breaks within the UK for members of one household might be possible as early as the Easter holidays, a government source told The Times.
“There’s an active discussion about how soon we can do it and we’ll be guided by the data,” the source said.
“There’s talk of April at the earliest, but a lot of things have to go right. It’s unlikely but it is being talked about as a possibility.”
Meanwhile, the Welsh first minister told BBC Breakfast on 19 February that he was working with the Tourism Task Force in Wales in a bid to enable limited tourism by Easter – which this year is the weekend of 2-5 April.
“What we will work on with them is the possibility – and it is only that – of some limited reopening around Easter of self-contained accommodation only. Places where people don’t mix with other people, where there aren’t shared facilities,” said Mark Drakeford. “That is how we began the reopening of tourism in Wales.”
However, there are concerns that allowing travel too soon could see “big movements” across the UK, enabling infection rates to rise again.
On 10 February, transport secretary Grant Shapps warned: “People shouldn’t be booking holidays right now, not domestically or internationally.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock then said “there is uncertainty, and that means we cannot make categorical assurances” about summer holidays, urging the public to be patient.
But, meanwhile, he told LBC: “I absolutely hope for a great British summer and I’m working incredibly hard to try to make sure that can happen,” and even admitted he’d booked a place in Cornwall for the summer.
Even the prime minister has given conflicting advice on the subject; on 1 February, Boris Johnson said he was “optimistic” about summer holidays going ahead, while on 10 February he said: “I am afraid it is just too early for people to be certain about what we’ll be able to do this summer.”
Industry sources told Travel Weekly that it’s unlikely that Mr Johnson will give any firm dates for restarting travel in the roadmap. One industry insider said: “We want international travel in the PM’s statement, but we don’t expect a series of dates. We expect he’ll outline the start of the process, not the solution. We’ll only get a sense of the pathway out of this. Then it’s urgent to have a group advising on the pathway.”
Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, said: “People want dates, but it would be dangerous to give dates. The government can’t be certain of anything.
“It would be lovely if we could start booking holidays from May. But the fear is if we open too soon we go back to square one. I don’t think the industry could survive another summer with no travel. We need to see a way out, but we don’t need to see the date the gates will open.”
Will rapid testing help?
Boris Johnson has proposed using rapid coronavirus testing as a way to gradually reopen venues across the UK – a move that could also help open up domestic travel.
The suggested measure has been backed by the World Health Organisation’s special envoy on Covid-19.
Dr David Nabarro said he believed rapid testing could indeed play a crucial role in reopening nightclubs, theatres and other venues that have been forced to shut down during the pandemic.
“The secret to getting life back to some degree of normality for most of us is going to be the availability of really reliable, super-quick tests,” Dr Nabarro told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“That will make movement so, so much easier.”
The WHO special envoy also said that vaccination certificates could also be required for international travel and “activities where you’re actually going into a different jurisdiction”.
However, he said, “for moving around [domestically], it will be rapid tests”.
What about vaccine passports?
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has sought to make clear that the British government is not looking into providing government-backed “vaccine passports”, but is instead looking to find a way to ensure that travellers can obtain “certificates” proving they have received the jab, if required.
The vaccines minister suggested the government was aware of the possibility that countries might require certificates proving travellers have received a vaccine jab.
He said that if that was a requirement, the government wants to “make it as easy as possible” for people to obtain such a document.
He said the effort would likely be similar to receiving a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
Closer to home, Mr Zahawi said that UK cinemas, theatres and other venues will be free to demand proof of Covid-19 vaccination before allowing people to enter, despite the government ruling out a “vaccine passport” scheme of its own.
Mr Zahawi said it was “up to businesses” to determine what rules to introduce.