The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, has said the government will protect the success of its vaccination programme at all costs, as speculation grows that strict restrictions on foreign travel could continue into the summer.
With cases rising in several EU countries and the South African variant becoming more prevalent in France, some experts have cautioned against lifting the holiday ban.
Mike Tildesley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group, which feeds into the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has said continental holidays this summer currently appear extremely unlikely.
Asked about the prospects for travel, Wallace said: “We can’t be deaf and blind to what’s going on outside the United Kingdom. If you look in Europe, and the increases in infections, we can’t put at risk the huge amount of risk, by the taxpayer, by the NHS, by our scientists, in developing this vaccine.
“And if we were to be reckless in any way, and import new variants that put it at risk, then what would people say about that?” he asked Sophy Ridge on Sky News. “We’ve got good direction of travel, we’re getting there, and I think we need to make sure we preserve that at all costs.”
Under the government’s roadmap for exiting lockdown the current travel restrictions will remain in place until at least 17 May. The Department for Transport has set up a “global travel taskforce” to examine how holidays and other travel could be facilitated.
The Cabinet Office is conducting a separate review of whether some form of Covid certificate could allow travellers to show that they have been vaccinated or have received a recent negative test result.
The shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, underlined the need for the government to be careful.
“We’re all desperate to go on holiday, but we’ve got to proceed with caution. We can’t allow the good work that’s been done by the vaccine rollout to be unravelled by unlocking too quickly, or by failing to secure our borders,” she said on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show. “We’ve seen problems with that in the past.”
Nandy also said she would not be booking an overseas holiday.
With the EU’s vaccination plan faltering, Wallace also warned the European commission against banning the export of vaccines when the bloc’s leaders meet later this week.
“The world is watching what happens,” he said, and cautioned against trying to unpick commercial contracts the UK government had made with EU drugmakers.
The European commissioner Mairead McGuinness declined to rule out an export ban on Sunday. Appearing on the Marr show, she stressed the need for a calm approach and lamented what she called the “AstraZeneca saga”.
“It’s hugely disappointing, and European citizens are growing angry and upset at the fact that the vaccine rollout has not happened as rapidly as we had anticipated,” she said. “Both the EU and the UK have contracts with AstraZeneca. My understanding is that the company is supplying the UK but not the European Union.
“I think this is just about openness and transparency and addressing citizens’ concerns. It’s about nothing else.”