BRITS face uncertainty over their summer holidays this year as Jonathan Van Tam warned Europe was so far behind in their vaccine rollout.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer said he couldn’t say either way whether it would be possible for the nation to take a summer holiday this year or not.
At tonight’s Downing Street press conference he said: “We are still in a zone of great uncertainty about what the virus will do next.
“On top of that many of the vaccination programmes in Europe, a place where we frequently go on holiday, are running behind ours.
“Whether we can go on holidays abroad depends on what other countries will say and do in terms of foreign tourism.
“I am not going to give you a firm answer, I don’t think there is one at this point.”
It comes as…
Last week, the government gave a road map out of lockdown which included domestic holidays resuming from April 12.
This was followed by May 17 for hotels and group trips, while a date for foreign holidays is yet to be announced next month but hoped for by June 21.
However, there are fears that these plans could be thrown into disarray as a major search is launched to track down a missing Covid patient who has tested positive for the mutant Brazilian strain of the virus.
Officials say “every effort is underway” to find the infected person after Public Health England today confirmed six cases of the Manaus P1 variant, with surge testing being launched in South Gloucestershire after two patients were found to have the variant.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper warned that people shouldn’t be booking summer holidays abroad at all, as borders controls may need to get stricter, not more relaxed.
She told Radio 4’s Today Programme: “There is a concern about whether the government is raising expectations about summer holidays that they may not be able to meet.
“This will depend on the relationship between the spread of these new variants and what happens with the vaccine.
“We’ve been advised on the committee by scientists that the strength of these border measures become even more important as domestic cases fall.
“As our own cases fall and as the economy and society opens up, they argue that that’s when you actually need stronger measures at the border rather than reduce them.
“The government is encouraging people to think that those summer holidays are all going to be possible and international travel is going to return.”
When asked if people shouldn’t be booking, she said: “I think so, yes.”
Her comments echo Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who last month warned people might not go on holiday at all this year.
Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford also said he had “worries” about Boris Johnson’s comments that international travel could return in May and that he would instead “build the walls higher for now” to prevent bringing in coronavirus variants to the UK.
He suggested people should stay in the country this year completely – rather than go abroad.
Mr Drakeford told a virtual meeting with Welsh businesses and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer: “It worries me hugely to hear the Prime Minister say that he intends to reopen international travel in May of this year.”
“Our September in Wales was made far more difficult by the fact that we had a big importation of the virus from France, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey. Every day I will be reading of new outbreaks of people who have gone away, caught the virus and brought it back with them.
“If ever there was a year to be staying at home and to be enjoying all the fantastic things Wales has to offer, this must be it.”
Today Boris Johnson vowed that his lockdown lifting would still be “irreversible” despite the threat of the Brazil variant.
The PM said there was no reason to believe that the vaccine wouldn’t work as well on the new variant – which is now been found in the UK.
Seeking to to reassure the public today while on a visit to a school in Stoke, he said: “What we are doing is embarking now on a journey, a one-way road map to freedom and it is designedly cautious in order to be irreversible.
“We don’t think there’s any reason on this basis to change that now.
“Some people say we should go faster, some people say we should be more hesitant. I think we are going at the right pace.”
His comments after a top scientists warned the new variants could mean the UK may have to “go backwards” by reimposing some restrictions.
Professor Graham Medley, professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of SAGE told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is a variant of concern but we are going to be faced with these in the next six months as we move towards relaxing measures.
“There are going to be challenges on the way, and there is always a risk that we might have to go backwards, and that’s what nobody wants to do is to actually open up and then have to close down again.
“So monitoring these variants, keeping an eye on in terms of what they actually do – so sequencing, for example, viruses in hospitals – I think is a crucial step to know whether or not this variant and other variants in the future, what impact they’re actually having.”
When asked if more travel would risk new variants coming into the country, he said: “It’s inevitable, the risk is never zero – places that have high levels of protection across borders are still having incursions of the virus still coming in.
“You’ve got to weigh that against what’s happening within the country – at the moment we’ve got tens of thousands of people being infected every day. and so putting a lot of effort into preventing handfuls of infections from coming overseas has to be proportionate.
“It is a global problem, and if we remain globally connected, which I think we must, then it is about the rate and the risk of this happening rather than whether it does or not.”
When will holidays resume?
- April 12 – self catered holiday homes can be let to single household
- April 12 – decision on foreign holidays to be announced
- May 17 – hotels reopen and holiday homes can be let to groups of up to six people from different households or groups from two households with no cap on size
- June 21 – holiday homes can be let to groups of all sizes
Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi, when asked if the reopening dates could be changed if there are more Brazil variants, said that there are “four tests” that must be passed to be able to follow the lockdown dates.
He told the Today programme: “One is that the vaccination programme continues at pace, two that the vaccinations efficacy and the data that comes through is positive.
“Of course the third is around infection rates.”
He continued: “Social distancing is the most important as it loves social interaction.
“The fourth [test] is the variant which is why we are doing what we are doing in South Gloucester.”
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However, the UK is leading the vaccine rollout, with more than 20m people now having their first dose, working out to 29 per cent of the population.
EU holiday hotspots are much further behind – Greece and Spain are just at 5.5 per cent and five per cent, respectively.