The “door is not shut” on foreign holidays this summer, Matt Hancock has declared – but it depends on crucial evidence due in weeks.
The Health Secretary cast fresh doubt on whether trips abroad will be allowed, after reports they could take until August to start.
Foreign holidays are currently illegal from England, and advice is expected in about a week for trips starting on May 17 at the earliest.
But ministers made clear the actual start date for holidays could be much later – and refused to guarantee they’ll be allowed at all.
Mr Hancock today warned the UK would have to be “really cautious on international travel” due to variants from Brazil and South Africa circulating in European countries.
Holiday rules will depend on evidence due in weeks about how far the existing vaccine works against those strains, he said.
“We’re not yet sure but we’re doing the science in Porton Down and we’re watching very closely,” he told ITV’s This Morning.
“If that all goes well then we haven’t got a problem and we’ll be much more relaxed about international travel.”
Asked when we are expecting a result on efficacy, he said: “We’ll know more over the next few weeks.”
Asked if that evidence “could open the travel corridor quicker”, he replied: “That’s right – but it’s too early to say right now.”
He added people are likely to receive a third vaccine shot that could deal with variants as a “booster”, but that’s only due in the Autumn.
Mr Hancock said he will not be booking a foreign trip, saying: “I’m going on holiday in the UK… I love this country. I’ve had my holiday booked since I took it last year.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to have a great British summer, we’re going to have great holidays here.
“The cases are coming down – I’m highly confident we’re going to be fine here.”
Yesterday the tourism minister did not rule out a “traffic light” system in which travel is allowed, but some countries have greater restrictions than others.
Mr Hancock said he had a “lot of sympathy” for the travel industry, adding: “We all want to get that going as soon as possible but the most important thing is to protect the recovery here at home, so people can see their loved ones and don’t have to go into lockdown again.
“We may get to a position where if you’ve had your jab, then other countries will say ‘you’ve got to have the jab to come in’. And so we’ll make sure everybody can do that…”
Asked if there may be foreign holidays this summer, he said: “There may well be, I wouldn’t rule that out. The door is not shut, it’s just too early to say, but what we can say with confidence is that the unlocking home is on track.”
Elsewhere Mr Hancock hit out at the EU for attempting to restrict exports of the AstraZeneca jab, saying: “It would be easier if we just allowed people to deliver jabs to fulfil their contracts, which is how things ought to operate.
“I think the best thing is if we could all work together.”
He also refused to rule out U-turning and raising the measly 1% pay rise for NHS staff.
He said he would “leave it to” the independent pay review body, which only reports in a few months’ time.
Bizarrely Mr Hancock closed by defending his “red room” in his house, in which he does TV interviews.
“It’s like a boudoir, it’s soothing. It’s just me and my paperwork,” he said.