A day before the UK marked a year of living under lockdown restrictions Boris Johnson said that a third wave of the coronavirus would “wash up on our shores”.
The grim warning comes as slices of continental Europe struggle with the vaccination rollout and a third spike in coronavirus cases.
The UK looks set to weather the third wave considerably better than its EU counterparts, raising concerns that travel out of the UK could be limited ahead of summer.
The rise in cases comes as the UK eases its way out of a strict lockdown, with the Westminster government threatening fines for anyone who embarks on non-essential travel in the coming months.
The threat of a third wave and the introduction of fines will undoubtedly be of stress for those who have booked or are considering booking a holiday in 2021.
Here’s what we know about booking a holiday this Summer.
What the government has said
Under the current road map for easing restrictions, the earliest date people in England could go on holiday abroad would be May 17.
But the Westminster government has sounded off warnings over whether travel will be possible by this date.
Boris Johnson said it was “too early to say” whether foreign holidays will be allowed but rising cases in Europe meant “things certainly look difficult for the time being”.
The Prime Minister 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.
“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,” Mr Johnson said at a No 10 press conference.
“All I can say is it’s just too early to say and my advice is to everybody to wait for the global travel task force to report.
“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 to say more by April 5.”
Helen Whately said it was “premature” to consider booking a holiday abroad with coronavirus rates on the rise in other countries.
The health minister told 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.”
What the scientists have said
On March 20 Dr Mike Tildesley, an adviser to the government has said there was a danger travellers could bring back new variants of the coronavirus which are less susceptible to vaccines if travel was allowed and thus travel was “extremely unlikely”.
“I think that international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think, extremely unlikely,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“I think we are running a real risk if we do start to have lots of people going overseas in July and August because of the potential for bringing more of these new variants back into the country.
“What is really dangerous is if we jeopardise our vaccination campaign by having these variants where the vaccines don’t work as effectively spreading more rapidly.”
Professor Andrew Hayward of the University College of London concurred saying that it is unlikely that he government will encourage travel.
He told Times Radio on March 20 that “it looks like some European countries are going to be having high levels and I think it’s unlikely that we would want to encourage travel to those countries whilst they have high levels of infection”.
Secondly, he said it was about “keeping an eye on what variant is predominant within each country or even common”.
He added: “I suppose one of the more worrying things about this resurgence is that in some parts of Europe the South African variant is beginning to creep up to higher levels.”
He said this variant was of “particular concern” because vaccine effectiveness against it is “quite low”.
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the first UK lockdown last March, said relaxing border measures too early risked the success of the UK’s vaccination programme.
He said the risk from Europe is the arrival of new variants, or importing cases of the troubling South African variant from countries where cases were rising.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on March 23: “I should say we also have some of the South African variant here already and other variants which may be similar, which 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.”
What travel experts have said
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “The Government has made it clear it will make decisions on reopening travel based on the health situation abroad, meaning travel will continue to be restricted and rules will change in line with scientific guidance.
“There remains a financial risk to booking travel currently. That’s why it’s vital that plans to restart international travel take on board consumer concerns and make safety, affordable tests and vaccine passports and reassurance about refunds when travel is disrupted a top priority.
“So far as possible, it’s important that rules and requirements remain consistent, as changing them will leave travellers footing the bill again and further risk undermining consumers’ confidence in booking travel.”
What are the current rules on travel?
Under new Covid-19 laws in England and Wales, it will be illegal to leave the UK without a reasonable excuse from 29 March.
As such, this means you cannot travel abroad to Spain for a holiday, despite the country lifting its restrictions for UK travellers from 30 March.
The new legislation means that people living in England and Wales face an official ban on foreign holidays in law from Monday, and risk being issued with a £5,000 fine for breaking the rules.
The law now states that no-one may leave England to travel to a destination outside of the UK UK, “or travel to, or be present at, an embarkation point for the purpose of travelling from there to a destination outside the United Kingdom” without a reasonable excuse.
As well as a fine of up to £5,000 for flouting the rules, there is also a £200 fixed penalty notice for failing to fill in a travel declaration form, which includes providing personal details and reason for travel, for those planning to leave the UK.
The travel ban does not apply to those going to the common travel area of the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland, unless that is not the final destination.
Exemptions apply for those who need to travel.
Should I book a holiday abroad now?
The universal consensus from politicians, scientists and industry experts is that it’s too soon to book a holiday.
Holidaymakers desperate to have a holiday to look forward to after months of being locked indoors should opt for a staycation.
Otherwise it’s a case of waiting and seeing if the government provide a clear update on travel on April 5.