Travellers face a £5,000 fine for going abroad on holiday when a ban on leaving the UK without ‘reasonable excuse’ comes into force on Monday.
The threat of fines has been extended until the end of June, making foreign summer holidays look increasingly unlikely as a third wave of coronavirus sweeps across Europe.
And France is likely to be added to a ‘red list’ of countries requiring hotel quarantine by the end of the week.
Health officials are increasingly concerned by a surge in cases of the South African Covid variant across the Channel.
A senior minister even suggested the whole of the Continent could be put on the red list because of the botched vaccine rollout.
Quarantine-free holidays may not be possible until August, killing off hopes of trips abroad until late summer.
A ‘traffic light’ system is under consideration, allowing travel to ‘green’ countries without the need for quarantine on return.
Government sources stressed however that no decision has yet been made.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is leading a taskforce that will report by April 12 on how and when the ban on non-essential travel can be lifted. It can be no sooner than May 17 under Mr Johnson’s official roadmap.
That might mean the need to quarantine after foreign trips would stay in place until at least August.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, said extending travel restrictions will be ‘devastating’ for millions of people working in tourism.
The revelation comes amid warnings from Boris Johnson about a third wave of coronavirus currently sweeping across Europe – which could ‘wash up on our shores’.
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 also apply including for those needing to travel for work, study, for legal obligations or to vote, if they are moving, selling or renting property, for some childcare reasons or to be present at a birth, to visit a dying relative or close friend, to attend a funeral, for those getting married or to attend the wedding of a close relative, for medical appointments or to escape a risk of harm.
The threat to travel came as:
- Boris Johnson will mark the anniversary of the first national lockdown today with a minute’s silence. Exactly one year after the UK first went into national lockdown, a study found that the virus robbed British families of a total of 1.5 million years with their loved ones by cutting lives short;
- The UK’s daily recorded deaths from Covid-19 fell to 17 – the lowest number since September 28 and down 75 per cent in a week;
- The PM warned that a third wave of Covid cases seen in countries like France and Italy could ‘wash up on our shores as well’;
- EU leaders were last night split over whether to press ahead with an extraordinary ban on vaccine exports to Britain;
- A large US trial found the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective, providing 100 per cent protection against severe illness from Covid.
Care minister Helen Whately has repeated official warnings that booking a trip abroad would be ‘premature’.
But top scientists yesterday backed allowing foreign holidays this summer.
Carl Heneghan, a professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford University, said: ‘We were allowing people to go on holiday last summer, without any testing programme, and now we have got the vaccination programme and the testing programme. Given that, you have to ask the question, ‘What will it take if that’s not sufficient?’
Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Government’s scientific advisory group Nervtag, added: ‘We should have been able to complete the two rounds of vaccinations for the over-50s and clinically vulnerable by the end of April, early May.
‘Add on a couple of weeks for these things to take effect and you wouldn’t really have much of a case for going beyond the end of May [for extending the travel ban].’
However, given the picture in Europe it appears increasingly likely that foreign holidays will be delayed until at least June 21, the same day the Government plans to remove all domestic restrictions.
The slow rollout of the vaccination programme in Europe means most countries popular with Britons are unlikely to be declared ‘green’ until late summer. This would make foreign trips impossible for most holidaymakers because of the ten days of quarantine.
Putting France on the red list will mean returning British nationals are forced to isolate in an approved hotel at their own expense.
Non-British residents will be banned from entering and direct flights will also cease. Exemptions would be made for hauliers to protect trade.
Health minister Lord Bethell of Romford yesterday told peers: ‘The possibility is that we will have to red-list all of our European neighbours. But that would be done with huge regret because we are a trading nation.’
Thirty-five countries are on the red list, including the whole of South America, southern Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Portugal was on the list but was removed last week.
The ban on foreign holidays was implicit because leisure trips abroad were not one of the reasons allowed for leaving the house.
But, from Monday it will be officially placed in law at the same time as the ‘stay at home’ message is lifted.
The foreign 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.
Exemptions apply to those needing to travel for work, study, for legal obligations or to vote. Births, weddings and visiting a dying relative or close friend also qualify.