Boris Johnson has given his clearest signal that international travel will resume from May 17, but warned the Government will remain “cautious” to avoid an “influx” of cases.
The Prime Minister was pressed on the subject of travel during a campaign visit to Hartlepool on Monday, two weeks before the planned introduction of a new traffic lights scheme for foreign travel under the UK’s road map to end lockdown restrictions.
Mr Johnson said he did not want to see an “influx of disease” once international travel resumes, which is why the Government is being “as cautious as we can” with the road map.
“We do want to do some opening up on May 17 but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else,” the Prime Minister told reporters during a campaign visit to Hartlepool on Monday.
“I certainly don’t and we have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up.”
A small number of countries are expected to make it onto the “green list”, which will remove the need to quarantine on return to the UK although travellers will still be required to take a PCR test. The list is expected to be announced later this week, and will be reviewed every three weeks.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has urged a "careful" approach.
Sir Keir criticised the "chopping and changing" of the travel corridors list introduced last year and said such a situation should be avoided this holiday season.
Speaking during a campaign visit to Lewisham on Monday, the opposition leader said he will "wait and see" what the Government announces.
He told reporters: "We need to be very careful. I think it's clear that the virus is increasing in some countries around the world, so we have to be very, very careful," he told reporters.
"What we can't have is a repeat of last summer, where the lists were chopping and changing on a daily or even weekly basis."
Europe to welcome fully vaccinated visitors
It comes as the European Commission proposed to ease restrictions on travel to countries in the bloc amid progressing vaccination campaigns and lower infection rates.
Fully vaccinated tourists would be allowed to enter the 27-nation block with “emergency breaks” to protect against new Covid variants.
Under current restrictions, people from only seven countries including Australia and Singapore are allowed to enter the EU on holidays or for other non-essential reasons subject to tests or quarantine.
Under the EC’s new proposals, which requires approval from member states, foreign citizens who have been fully vaccinated against Covid and those arriving from countries with a “good epidemiological situation” would be allowed in.
People arriving from Britain and Russia would be among those able to meet the new criteria, according to data from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). US citizens would not.
A new “emergency break” would allow swift travel restrictions to be introduced for countries where the health situation sharply deteriorates, to limit the risk of importing new coronavirus variants.
EU member states are due to start discussing the proposal on Tuesday and the Commission said reciprocity should be considered in deciding to allow leisure travel from third countries.
UK MPs urge caution on foreign holidays
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on coronavirus claimed the importation of new variants through foreign travel could “lead to further lockdowns, and inevitably, further loss of life”.
Liberal Democrats MP Layla Moran, who chairs the cross-party group, said: “It is staggering that the Government is even contemplating encouraging overseas holidays when airports are already struggling to keep the virus and new variants at bay.
“Urgent measures are needed to better detect fake Covid test certificates, reduce overcrowding in arrival halls and separate out those arriving from red and amber list countries.
“The country’s biosecurity cannot rely on border staff spotting a spelling error.”
However Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, claimed the “best financial support the Government can now offer the travel sector is to open up overseas travel as planned from the 17th May”.
He added: “Not only can this be done safely with widespread testing, but it would also unlock much-needed revenues from business and leisure travellers keen to see family they haven’t seen for a year.
“Better digital technology would certainly enable more seamless travel through our borders and I’d urge the Government to invest in this more quickly so as to avoid airport queues in future.”
A Government spokesman said: “We introduced robust border controls to stop coronavirus variants in their tracks and every essential check we’ve introduced for arrivals has strengthened our defences against new mutations.
“As the UK unlocks domestically and with many British families spread far and wide, we understand that people may need to travel abroad for all sorts of reasons.
“But we can only permit it if it is done safely, which is why the Global Travel Taskforce has produced the Traffic Light system allowing us to manage the risk from imported cases by varying restrictions depending on the risk of travel from a specific location.”