Britons could face another summer at home as coronavirus variants rip across Europe, a leading scientific adviser has warned.
Neil Ferguson, dubbed Professor Lockdown after telling the government to impose restrictions last March, said ‘travel may be one of the later things to be relaxed’.
The Imperial College London epidemiologist said he believes life will not be back to normal by summer ‘but by the autumn it will feel a lot more normal’.
He said he was concerned over the South African variant of the virus on the Bloc, which reduces the effect of vaccines.
That and the Brazilian variant reportedly make up 40 per cent of infections in several French regions.
It comes as Boris Johnson faces growing calls from his top scientists to insulate Britain from the new strains by strengthening border controls.
England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty and his deputy Prof Jonathan Van-Tam are said to be pushing for the red list of high-risk countries to be expanded.
Priti Patel this morning did not rule out tightening measures at the border, including keeping controls in place over the summer in a fresh blow for foreign holidays (Ibiza pictured)
Professor Ferguson said today that depending what happens in other countries, ‘travel may be one of the later things to be relaxed’.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think we… whilst not everything will be back to normal by the summer, certainly by the autumn, it will feel a lot more normal.’
He said he believes the UK’s reopening road map is still on track despite concerns over the third wave in Europe.
He said the surge there has ‘already happened to us and we’re through to the other side’.
He continued: ‘But the real concern is things like the South African variant, where the vaccination programme we’re currently using, whilst it would still give some protection against that (variant), the protection would be reduced’.
The UK has ‘rolled out vaccination very fast and so we are in a very different position from most European countries’, he added.
‘We have vaccinated more than twice the proportion of the population than any other European country has done, so we’re in a better place from that point of view.
‘I don’t think, just because cases are rising in Europe, that necessarily throws our timetable into doubt.
‘What it may do is affect planning around restrictions on international travel, how much we try and screen people coming into the country.’
On keeping to the road map, he added the UK has a ‘very good chance of both being able to relax measures and not needing to tighten up’.
Boris Johnson is facing growing calls from his top scientists to insulate Britain from emerging variants by strengthening border controls (Heathrow pictured)
France is of particular concern because it has a lot of mutant strains but the majority crossing the Channel, such as lorry drivers, are exempt from quarantine.
Government scientists have reportedly told ministers South African and Brazilian variants make up 40 per cent of infections in several French regions.
These variants are driving a third wave across Europe and causing leaders to plunge populations back into lockdowns.
While scientists are confident these mutations will still be somewhat susceptible to vaccines, they could be more resistant and also drive up cases.
Priti Patel this morning did not rule out tightening measures at the border, including keeping controls in place over the summer in a fresh blow for foreign holidays.
Some increasingly view forfeiting summer holidays as a sacrifice to plough ahead with the roadmap to lifting lockdown.
The Home Secretary said: ‘We rule nothing out in terms of the approach we take when it comes to infection control and the safety and security of our public from this virus.’
Her comments came after Prof Van-Tam held a briefing with MPs last night about the pandemic.
An MP on the call told The Times: ‘Anyone on that call would understand that he thinks the red list needs expanding.’
The Home Secretary said: ‘We rule nothing out in terms of the approach we take when it comes to infection control and the safety and security of our public from this virus’
England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty (pictured) and his deputy Prof Jonathan Van-Tam are said to be pushing for the red list of high-risk countries to be expanded
Despairing Britons blast BA and easyJet as airlines axe flights this summer
Hopes for summer foreign holidays have been dealt a fresh blow after British Airways and easyJet scrapped more flights.
Would-be passengers were left dismayed by the latest round of cancellations – that included trips booked for after May 17, when breaks abroad were scheduled to resume. Some have even had flights for September axed.
Bradley Crouch, 33, bought flights to Mykonos on May 23 for a post-pandemic getaway with his extended family, confident it would go ahead after of Boris Johnson announced the roadmap to exit lockdown. ‘It’s that needed trip we’ve all been waiting for for so long,’ the gutted business owner from Kent told MailOnline after easyJet cancelled his flights last week.
Bradley Crouch on a family holiday to Tenerife in 2018 with his wife Katerina and daughter Iliana. His trip to Mykonos in May has been cancelled
Ministers announced that from Monday rule-breakers in England travelling overseas illegally will face a £5,000 fine. Critics railed against the ‘draconian measure’ and argued it would inflict further pain on the hard-hit travel sector. The Health Secretary suggested the tough rules could be eased on May 17 – but cautioned it was still too early to give summer holidays the green light.
British Airways insists its cancellations were not due to the evolving situation on the Continent but a routine review of flights to reflect the view of IATA, the airline trade body, that foreign travel will not resume to pre-pandemic levels by 2023.
The pared-back routes include fewer flights to Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, and extend as far into the future as August. Sources played down the flight cuts as ‘business as usual’ – and suggested more could be added in the future if there is scope. Yet would-be holidaymakers were exasperated that flights they had booked for after lockdown were being axed. One said: ‘I’m getting welcome back emails so booked flights in good faith having had my first vaccine dose.
‘Yesterday two were cancelled for mid July. Today, another cancelled for mid August. This is absolutely ridiculous, you either want passengers back or you don’t!’ Nick Murrell tweeted: ‘Book with confidence you tell us British Airways. Budapest and Milan flights in September cancelled in 24 hours. What’s the point in booking with you?’
British Airways said: ‘We are sorry that, like other airlines, due to the current coronavirus pandemic and global travel restrictions we are operating a reduced and dynamic schedule.’ EasyJet also stressed they have not cancelled flights for fear of a European third wave but that the flight schedule is reviewed ‘on an ongoing basis to align our flying programme with customer demand and government travel restrictions’.
They added that France was the main cause for concern, but Germany was also setting alarm bells ringing.
The red list – currently numbering 35 countries – is a travel ban except for British nationals who must undergo 10 days mandatory isolation in a hotel.
Arrivals from non red-list countries, such as France, are also required to quarantine but can do so from home.
However, around 68 per cent of French arrivals are hauliers who are exempt.
Tory MPs are also concerned the border is too permeable, with one backbencher telling MailOnline measures should be toughened to prevent infection spreading.
This morning Ms Patel said: ‘It’s not for me to speculate what will happen in the summer.
‘We have a roadmap, we have a plan and we are sticking to that plan and rightly so, because we want to ensure that we safeguard the rollout of the vaccine programme.
‘As I’ve said the advice right now is not to travel, and we have to see how other variants are developing.
‘We will take all measures basically to protect our country and our citizens from new variants.’
She also told The Sun: ‘Of course I haven’t booked a summer holiday’ told Britons to hold off making plans just yet.
Holidaymakers were dismayed yesterday when airlines including BA and easyJet scrapped more flights this summer.
The Government will publish a review into the viability of international travel next month, but last night the Prime Minister appeared doubtful of summer holidays.
He told the No10 press briefing: ‘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.’
Just over 10 per cent of adults have received their first vaccine dose across the EU, compared to the UK’s figure exceeding 53 per cent.
The rapid build of infections on the Continent has spurred leaders to reimpose strict lockdown.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that all non-essential shops will be closed over the Easter period with church services moved online and public gatherings banned as infections rise ‘exponentially’.
France’s hospital federation chief warned that case figures are ‘exploding’ and the health system is heading for an ‘unprecedented violent shock’ in about three weeks unless strong action is taken.
Prime Minister Jean Castex imposed tough measures on 16 French regions including the cities of Paris, Lille and Nice last week.
And in Spain, experts have begun warning of a fourth wave of Covid after deaths from the virus rose to 633 on Monday compared to 298 a week ago.
From Monday people in England caught travelling overseas without an acceptable excuse, such as essential work, face a £5,000 fine.
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling prompted the first national lockdown a year ago today, urged Britons to book holidays in the UK.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One yesterday: ‘I certainly am in favour of relaxing border measures at a slower rate than we relax controls within the country and doing all we can to reduce the risk of importation of variants, which might undermine our vaccination programme.
‘I think we should be planning on summer holidays in the UK, not overseas.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: ‘We have strong measures in place at the border and the vast majority of people coming into this country must quarantine and take two mandatory PCR tests – on day 2 and day 8 of their 10-day isolation period, as well as proving they have tested negative before travel.
‘Specific and limited exemptions are only in place where necessary, for example to allow for food, medicines and other products to be delivered into the UK.
‘We are carefully monitoring the increase in cases in Europe and will keep all measures under review as we cautiously remove restrictions.’