Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is “optimistic” that people will be able to enjoy a summer holiday this year, provided Covid-19 can be kept under control.
Mr Johnson said the ability to travel will depend on certain things going well, with the success of the vaccine rollout and level of Covid cases being among the factors taken into consideration.
‘Things have got to go right’
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When asked about tourism in the UK, the PM said he did not want to give “concrete” dates for summer holidays, but will set out more details later this month.
The Government is due to outline its so-called “road map” for the gradual easing of Covid restrictions over the months ahead on 22 February, following a review of the current rules.
At the moment, 8 March has been highlighted as the earliest possible date for the reopening of schools and the easing of other measures.
Speaking during a visit to Batley, West Yorkshire, Mr Johnson said: “I don’t want to give too much concrete by way of dates for our summer holidays. I am optimistic - I understand the reasons for being optimistic - but some things have got to go right.
“The vaccine programme has got to continue to be successful. We have got to make sure we don’t get thrown off course by new variants, we have got to make sure that we continue to keep the disease under control and the level of infections come down."
He added that, once more details are announced in the last week of February, “people should certainly be able to plan on that basis”.
His comments come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday (31 Jan) that he was hopeful of a “free great British summer”.
He commented: “In six months we will be in the middle of, I hope, a happy and free great British summer.
“I have a high degree of confidence that by then the vast majority of adults will have been vaccinated.”
Still ‘early days’
Almost 9.3 million people in the UK have now been given their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while the NHS confirmed the jab has been offered to all older residents at eligible care homes in England.
Mr Johnson hailed the achievement as a “crucial milestone” and said the rollout will continue to accelerate from here.
The Government has set a target of vaccinating all care home residents and carers, people aged over 70 and frontline health and care workers by 15 February.
While the PM said the vaccination programme so far has been “phenomenal”, he declined to say whether the Government would meet its ambitious target.
He commented: “I think it would be unwise to speculate at the moment. I think the NHS, the pharmacies, the volunteers, helped by the Army, they have done an outstanding job.
“The rollout has been phenomenal so far but it is still, relatively speaking, early days.”
Will normality be reached by summer?
The UK could ease out of restrictions during March and return almost back to normal by summer, if the Covid vaccines available are between 70 and 80 per cent effective at blocking transmission, according to a government scientific adviser.
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of SAGE subgroup, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said scientists believed vaccines would block transmission of coronavirus but that it was not yet known by how much.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he explained: “If we think optimistically, if we follow the trajectory of the rollout of the vaccine… then hopefully we can be easing out of these controls that we’ve got in place sometime in March.
“But I think even with that optimistic situation, it needs to be done relatively gradually. The danger is of course as we do start to unwind controls then we offset the gains that we get from vaccination, so we need to be very careful.
“But if the vaccine rollout continues at high levels, and we do find that actually these vaccines are very good at blocking transmission as well as preventing severe infection, then we’re in a good position.
“Hopefully by the summer we can get back to something pretty close to what we have seen before the pandemic was normal.”