Lifting the ban on overseas vacations in the coming months could risk another lockdown next winter, warns Boris Johnson, amid mounting alarm about a third wave of infections hitting continental Europe.
Scientific experts and opposition politicians urge the government to be extremely cautious before loosening travel restrictions, and their concerns about the prevalence of new variants of the virus abroad are increasingly shared by Whitehall.
“I don’t think people should plan their summer holidays abroad until next year,” said Professor Kamlesh Khunti, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and Independent Sage of the University of Leicester.
“It has been a tough block, we are doing very well, we cannot jeopardize this now. Our rates are dropping, our vaccinations [rate] it’s fantastic, and the biggest fear we have is newer variants that vaccines don’t work as well against.
“We knew from the beginning of the pandemic that our border control was not good: we had people coming from Spain and Italy and that increased rates in the UK, and in the summer we have more cases. We cannot allow it now, “he said, adding:” Is there a risk of another lockdown? Absolutely.”
Rowland Kao, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh who contributes to Sage’s Spi-M modeling subgroup, said there were “some reasons to be cautious” about opening trips, in particular the risk of importing Covid variants that it could be resistant to vaccines.
The comments echoed those of Spi-M member Mike Tildesley, who said on Saturday that trips abroad for the average tourist this summer seemed “extremely unlikely.”
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace took a cautious tone when asked about the likelihood of travel restrictions continuing through the summer, saying it was too early to book vacations abroad.
“We cannot remain deaf and blind to what is happening outside the UK. If you look at Europe and the increase in infections, we cannot put at risk the enormous amount of effort, by the taxpayer, the NHS, our scientists, to develop this vaccine, “he told Sophy Ridge on Sky News. .
Vaccines hit another record 844,285 on Sunday. The number of new coronavirus cases was 5,312, while another 33 people were reported to have died within 28 days of testing positive for the disease.
The prime minister’s roadmap said foreign travel for all but some specific purposes would not resume until May 17 at the earliest. Whitehall experts said the government is looking very carefully at case rates in destination countries.
Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps is overseeing a “global travel task force” to examine how vacations and other travel could be facilitated, which will be reported in three weeks.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office is conducting a separate review to determine if some type of Covid certificate could allow travelers to prove that they have been vaccinated or that they have received a recent negative test result.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas Symonds said: “The renewed waves of Covid in Europe are really concerning. The UK’s first priority must be to protect the progress made by the vaccine, which means we need a comprehensive quarantine system in hotels without further delay.
“Of course we all want international travel to resume, but safety must come first. It is too early to say if there may be any change in travel advice on May 17, as the numbers in many European countries are skyrocketing. We have to be guided by science, not by arbitrary dates. “
In a further blow to potential summer vacation plans, it appears that a number of European governments are going to enforce further restrictions due to a spike in infections and European Commissioner Didier Reynders said on Sunday that he did not expect a passport to be available. of EU vaccines that would potentially facilitate travel. until at least July.
Before a video conference Monday by Germany’s national and regional leaders, the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases reported that case levels had passed a key marker. The number of infections per 100,000 residents reached 103.9 on Sunday, the institute said, above the threshold of 100 at which Germany’s intensive care units are deemed to no longer be able to cope.
Meanwhile, in light of evidence of a third wave of infection on the continent, Belgian Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke spoke on Sunday of the need for additional measures even as the country has undergone a harsh second lockdown. national since November.
“We have set ourselves a very important ambition by fully opening schools after Easter and catering from May 1,” said Vandenbroucke. “With this increased pollution, there is a risk of not achieving these goals.”
An in-person summit of EU heads of state and government scheduled to take place in Brussels on Thursday was canceled on Sunday. Instead, the leaders will discuss the new wave of coronavirus cases via video conference. A spokesperson said the decision was made “following the increase in Covid-19 cases in member states.”
The focus of EU leaders has shifted in recent weeks from the question of how to safely reopen economies before the tourist season to protecting health services so they are not overwhelmed.
In Greece, a popular tourist destination for the British, the government warned on Sunday that it could requisition private healthcare resources as its public system faces strains.
However, any extension of UK travel restrictions, which currently means holidays are not allowed, and travelers must fill out a form stating the purpose of any travel, would likely enrage conservative supporters who are already irritated by the duration of the current lockout.
The House of Commons will hold a pair of votes on Thursday to decide whether to extend the powers of the government to impose tough restrictions on daily life for another six months, and several Tory MPs have warned they are ready to rebel.
Steve Baker, Vice Chair of the Coronavirus Recovery Group of Secondary MPs, said: “With so many vulnerable people now vaccinated, people may wonder why the restrictions that the government is imposing this coming week are tougher than they were last summer when we we did not”. I have a vaccine. “
A government spokesperson said that some aspects of the Coronavirus Act, which will be renewed this week, could expire as they are no longer needed, but noted that the law also supports supportive measures such as the licensing scheme and changes to pay per legal illness.
“The prime minister has said that our roadmap is intended to be cautious but irreversible, so we must compare the data with our four tests before proceeding with each step. We do not want any restrictions to apply for longer than necessary, “the spokesperson said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism