The rollout of coronavirus vaccines is “absolutely essential” for summer holidays to take place, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
Mr Hancock, who has already booked a break in Cornwall, urged people to be “patient” over the prospect of getting away.
“I know that people are yearning for certainty over whether they can have a summer holiday, but pandemics are difficult times and there is a lot of uncertainty, so I am afraid that people will have to be patient before we can get that certainty,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We are doing everything that we possibly can to make sure that people can have a holiday this summer but the vaccine rollout is absolutely essential to that.
“We will set out more in more detail when we can, but at the moment unfortunately there is that uncertainty still.”
He told Sky: “We are doing everything we can to make sure people can have that holiday in the summer and, even before then, to be able to see their loved ones.
“Even before we get to whether we’re going on holiday or where we’re going on holiday, how soon we can see and hug our loved ones is important.”
He said because take-up of the vaccine was so high, “that will all help us get out of this and help us get back to normal”.
His comments come a day after Boris Johnson warned it was “too early for people to be certain about what we will be able to do this summer”, and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps claimed “people shouldn’t be booking holidays right now”.
Holidays are banned under the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown, but the travel industry is desperate for rules to be relaxed in time for the vital summer season.
Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, said there needs to be a debate about what restrictions should be eased first during the pandemic.
She described how vaccines could be used to enable schools to reopen and people to visit crowded bars and restaurants, but “the cost is restricted movement internationally”.
Noel Josephides, chairman of tour operator Sunvil, said he believes once people are vaccinated they will not be worried about travelling abroad.
He told LBC: “To put it bluntly, vaccination isn’t only about preventing death, but is giving the ability to live.”
Mr Josephides said the Prime Minister and various ministers have “never been completely accurate” during the pandemic, adding: “This is a huge, huge industry, a million jobs are at stake, and we don’t believe that once people are vaccinated they are going to worry about travelling abroad.
“And it’s on that basis that we are going ahead. And if, in fact, the Government waits until everybody is vaccinated then by that time there won’t be a travel industry.”
Heathrow announced on Thursday that its passenger volumes were down 89% in January compared with the same month in 2020.
Just 677,000 passengers travelled through the west London airport last month.
Chief executive John Holland-Kaye described the introduction of quarantine hotels and additional testing requirements as “essentially a border closure”.
He said: “That will inevitably delay the country’s recovery and hurt the UK’s supply chains. We need to see the flight plan for the safe restart of international travel as part of the Prime Minister’s road map on February 22.”
Meanwhile Test and Trace figures published by the Government on Thursday showed 148,809 people in England tested positive for Covid-19 in the week to February 3 – down 24% on the previous week and the lowest number since the week to December 9.
A total of 3.1 million people in England were tested at least once in the week to February 3. This is up slightly from 2.9 million in the previous week, and is the highest weekly number since the Test and Trace scheme began at the end of May 2020.