UK’s international travel ban will probably continue until Europe’s Covid vaccine drive picks up

Britain’s international travel ban will probably stay in place until Europe’s vaccine drive picks up pace, SAGE adviser says

  • Sir Jeremy Farrar said the biggest threat to the UK now came from abroad
  • Wellcome Trust chief added the continent was facing a ‘terrible month or two’
  • Ministers are yet to approve holidays this summer with hopes in the balance
  • But if the lockdown easing plan could see them permitted from May 17 

Britain’s ban on foreign holidays will likely stay in place until Europe’s vaccination drive picks up and it gets a lid on cases, one of the Government’s scientific advisers warned today.

Putting plans for May half-term breaks abroad in doubt, Sir Jeremy Farrar cautioned the biggest threat to lockdown-easing plans now came from ‘outside the country’.

The Wellcome Trust chief and SAGE member said that the UK must avoid importing dangerous variants — including the South African strain — that make vaccines less effective.

He added the continent was staring down the barrel of a ‘terrible month or two’, with its epidemic curve in a similar position to the UK’s in December. 

Ministers are yet to approve holidays abroad this summer, with hopes hanging in the balance amid Europe’s third wave.

The Government plans to allow international travel from May 17 should the lockdown easing roadmap go to plan but holidays abroad remain illegal. Ministers will bring in £5,000 fines to deter Britons seeking to defy the rules from Monday. 

Sir Jeremy Farrar said the biggest threat to the UK’s lockdown exit strategy now came from abroad, and the risk of importing new dangerous variants that could evade vaccines

Europe is staring down the barrel of a 'terrible month or two' he warned, amid rising cases and a sluggish vaccination rate

Europe is staring down the barrel of a ‘terrible month or two’ he warned, amid rising cases and a sluggish vaccination rate


Mass coronavirus vaccination sites across the UK have announced they will close temporarily next month due to looming supply issues – as Matt Hancock revealed the jabs have saved at least 6,000 lives already in the UK.

Vaccine centres in Devon, Cornwall and Kent are among those to have confirmed they will ‘have to pause’ during the month-long slowdown, which has been triggered by a shortfall of five million AstraZeneca jabs from India. If the rest of the country follows suit, it could see all 150 mass vaccination sites shut.

The focus of the rollout will turn to ensuring there are sufficient vaccine stocks to dish out crucial second doses, with staff at mass hubs around the country expected to be redeployed.

Local vaccination centres have also been told to close unfilled bookings from March 31, with the supply constraint expected to last throughout April. The NHS has called on over-50s to book their first vaccine appointment while they still can before Monday, or risk facing delays.

GPs will continue contacting eligible patients on their lists, but some vaccination sites including Westpoint, near Exeter, have revealed they will shut between April 1 and 11. All of Kent’s five mass vaccination centres, for example, are set to close ‘for a number of weeks’ from next month.

Sir Jeremy warned Britain will have to think ‘very hard’ before giving the green light to summer holidays this year. 

‘I think the ban will have to continue until we see progress in Europe with the epidemic coming down and vaccination rates going up,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

‘The best answer to travel is to bring the epidemic under control in the UK, and to make vaccines available globally.

‘Then we can get travel going, and we can get economics back, we can get all of our health and education back much faster.’

He added: ‘The UK is in a very good position now. Infection rates are falling and the epidemic is getting smaller every day, while the vaccine rollout is nothing short of staggering.’

Ministers are watching nervously as cases continue to take off in Europe, including of the more troubling variants.

In France alone the South African and Brazilian variants are thought to make up around 10 per cent of cases, with infections concentrated in the north.

It comes amid a sluggish vaccine roll-out, with EU leaders holding a ‘virtual’ gathering today amid threats from the commission to ban jab exports to the UK.

France and Germany are backing the tough action as they face massive pressure over their own dire roll-outs, but Ireland and many other members are alarmed at the idea of undermining legal contracts.

Former commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker waded into the spat this morning, branding the idea of a ‘vaccine war’ stupid and raising fears it will cause ‘major reputational damage’ to the bloc.

The EU and UK issued a joint statement pledging to work together last night, after Boris Johnson warned that businesses could flee the bloc’s borders if it imposed ‘arbitrary’ blockades.

And Health Secretary Matt Hancock delivered another blunt rebuke today, insisting that the UK’s contract with AstraZeneca was fundamentally better than the EU’s.

‘I believe that free trading nations follow the law of contracts,’ he told the FT. ‘They have a ”best efforts” contract and we have an exclusivity deal.’

Amid mounting concern over travel, Downing St is expected to add more countries to its quarantine ‘red list’ on March 29, including France, and is planning to announce more information on foreign travel on April 5.  

Ministers are considering deploying a ‘traffic light’ system to permit travel to any destination that has successfully suppressed their Covid outbreaks and kept variants under control. 

This could mean holidays to low risk countries would be on the cards but those to ‘red’ nations would remain banned.