Vaccines Minister Says It's "Far Too Early" To Book Summer Holidays
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has warned off planning for summer holidays, while an announcement is expected today on whether people will be required to formally quarantine on entering the UK.
The Covid operations planning group, Covid-O, will meet today and is likely to confirm plans for anyone returning to the UK to spend a strict period of quarantine at a designated hotel.
The cost of the quarantine would fall to the individual, with some exemptions, and is believed to be in the region of £1,500 per person.
The plans aim to prevent the spread of new strains of Covid-19 into the UK after new strains of virus have been discovered in Brazil and South Africa. It's so currently unclear how effective the vaccine is in providing immunity against those strains.
Significant progress on rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK has led to optimism that some return to normal life could be seen by the summer, but Zahawi has warned against booking holidays abroad yet, with no guarantee that quarantine won't still be in place by then.
"We’ve reached base camp with the vaccine deployment programme with over 6.5 million with the first dose, but it’s a long way to go," Zahawi told Sky News.
On planning to leave the UK for summer holidays, Zahawi added: "I think it’s far too early. There’s still 37,000 people in hospital with Covid at the moment and it’s far too early to even speculate about the summer."
But while it looks likely that strict quarantine plans will be announced today, the government has been criticised over being slow to act on infection controls at the border.
Currently people coming to the UK must have proof of a negative coronavirus test before arrival, and then isolate for 10 days, but until 15 January several countries were exempt from the isolation period as part of the travel corridor scheme. The negative test requirement was only introduced on January 8 this year.
Parts of Germany began to require a negative Covid-19 test from a list of high risk countries in July. In August Finland announced it would require mandatory tests from high risk countries.
Greece introduced testing for anyone arriving into the country in November.
While the UK's vaccine roll-out has so far been ahead of the rest of Europe, there is now worry that a row between the EU and AstraZeneca could lead to a tightening of export rules, drastically reducing the UK's supply of certain vaccines.
Speaking to the BBC this morning, Zahawi confirmed supplies were "tight" but played down concern. "I'm confident that [Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca] will both deliver for us the quantities that we need to meet our mid-February target and of course beyond that."
Speaking to Sky, Zahawi said that the reopening of school remained the government's "absolute priority ahead of everything else."
But he was unable to confirm when parents can expect to see their children back in school. “I can’t give you a timeline because it’s wrong for me to speculate,” he said.