Britons should not book summer holidays abroad, says the vaccines minister, as the Government prepared to force UK arrivals from “high risk” countries with the new Covid variant to quarantine in hotels.
Nadhim Zahawi said it was “far too early” to even speculate about summer holidays with 37,000 people still in hospital being treated for Covid-19.
Asked whether his advice to people considering booking a summer holiday now was not to do so right now, he replied: “Absolutely.
“At the moment, we have reached base camp, if I can describe it as that, with the vaccine deployment programme, over six and a half million people now with the first dose..a long way to go.”
The Cabinet’s Covid Operations (Covid O) committee will meet later on Tuesday to finalise plans for Australian-style hotel quarantine that will cost travellers up to £1,500 for 10 days self-isolating with meals served in their rooms and supervised by private security guards.
Ministers are expected to agree to restrict the requirement for quarantine hotels to Britons returning from the 30 “high risk” countries currently covered by a travel ban for foreigners as part of its strategy to prevent new Covid variants from abroad taking root in the UK.
These include South America, Portugal and Cape Verde, following the discovery of two new Covid variants in Brazil, as well as South Africa and neighbouring countries, where a third variant emerged. Non-UK residents from these countries are barred from entering the UK.
The Covid O committee will also consider whether test and release, where travellers can leave quarantine if they have a negative covid result on the fifth day, should continue for both those held in quarantine hotels and all other arrivals from lower risk countries, as currently happens.
Also on the committee agenda is a proposal for all arrivals from any country to be required to stay in quarantine hotels.
Although this is said to have been pressed by ministers including Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, it is now thought likely that it will be held in reserve – as will the option to impose a blanket closure of the UK borders.
There are fears among travel chiefs that a blanket imposition of an Australian-style quarantine hotel policy on all arrivals would see travel and holidays effectively killed off until 2022.