A third Covid wave across Europe could leave Brits’ summer holiday dreams in tatters yet again.
Trips abroad will be “extremely unlikely” this summer due to the risk of new variants being brought back into the UK, a top scientist advising the government has warned.
Hopeful holidaymakers are being warned it’s too soon to bank on holidays abroad as restrictions on international travel could linger.
The UK’s own ban on international travel is not set to end until May 17 at the earliest.
Countries including Greece and Portugal still hope to roll out the red carpet to vaccinated Brit travellers as they battle to keep their tourism economies afloat.
But experts are warning worrying new variants of the virus and fresh lockdowns in Europe could yet delay longed-for summer trips and reunions for families kept apart.
France, Germany, Italy and Poland are among countries to announce new lockdowns in recent days as the vaccine rollout in Europe continues to be slow.
The Mirror has analysed what impact the Europe third wave is likely to have on summer holidays, and looked at the individual circumstances in countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal.
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Infectious diseases expert Dr Mike Tildesley said there was a danger that new variants could jeopardise the vaccination programme later in the year.
Dr Tildesley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group which advises the Government, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think, extremely unlikely.
“I think we are running a real risk if we do start to have lots of people going overseas in July and August because of the potential for bringing more of these new variants back into the country.”
The Kent strain has also spread to Europe, where countries are also trying to keep the worrying new South African variant at bay.
Even as the UK’s vaccine drive takes effect, the virus is still running rampant on the continent with leaders bringing in fresh restrictions to ward off the strains.
The EU has also been plagued by a slow vaccine rollout and several countries halted use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab amid blood clot fears, but have since reversed the decision after medicines regulators assured it’s safe.
The UK’s gradual reopening of society is hoped to gather pace in the coming weeks, after Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown launched this month with the reopening of schools.
Britain’s vaccine rollout passed 26million first doses on Friday, but is set to be hit by delays holding up first doses for under-50s due to a major reduction in weekly supplies.
The rise in infections on the continent has led to some countries across Europe imposing tougher restrictions, with UK scientists concerned about outbreaks of the South African variant.
Government scientists say it is still unclear what will happen for foreign travel plans this summer, but the risk of importing cases and variants comes from countries with a higher prevalence than the UK.
It is “unlikely” that the Government will want to encourage travel to European countries currently experiencing high levels of coronavirus infections, Professor Andrew Hayward told Times Radio this morning.
Prof Hayward, of University College London, was asked if he thought it likely trips to Europe without restrictions could resume this summer.
He said: “I think the Government has always been clear that travel abroad… any changes or plans are likely to change on that.”
Prof Hayward added that it was unlikely the UK government would want to encourage travel to countries still experiencing high levels of infection.
He said authorities would also be “keeping an eye on what variant is predominant within each country or even common”.
He added: “I suppose one of the more worrying things about this resurgence is that in some parts of Europe the South African variant is beginning to creep up to higher levels.”
He said this variant was of “particular concern” because vaccine effectiveness against it is “quite low”.
“So we’d obviously want to be very careful about that,” Prof Hayward said.
A study published Thursday by Oxford University suggested the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs could struggle against the South African variant and may end up offering limited protection.
Researchers said the South African variant should be the focus of any efforts to create new vaccines that may be needed next winter.
Experts have long anticipated countries’ Covid jab programmes could wind up being seasonal – much like the annual flu vaccine.
Prof Ferguson said there are “important decisions coming up” with regards to dealing with variants, including how much the ban on international travel is relaxed.
One way of dealing with variants may be through “introducing testing of people coming into the country”, he suggested, but added: “These are policy decisions.”
As EU countries began relaunching their AstraZeneca jab rollout following this week’s suspensions, they continue to trail the UK and some eastern European countries.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia are among those reportedly expressing interest in Russia’s controversial “Sputnik V” vaccine.
Hungary’s Vicktor Orban, a close ally of Vladimir Putin who frequently clashes with Brussels, was the first to authorise use of Russia’s jab.
Latest lockdown and travel rules by country
The French government announced that new lockdown restrictions would be imposed on Paris and 15 other regions from midnight on Friday due to an increase in cases.
Prime Minister Jean Castex said France was facing a “third wave” of the pandemic, adding the new measures will last for four weeks.
From Friday, March 12 the UK became one of few countries outside the EU that people can legally travel from and to without justifying their journey.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany may need to apply an “emergency break” on relaxing restrictions amid a rise in infections.
It classified neighbouring Poland as ‘high risk,’ meaning anyone crossing the border from the country must provide a negative Covid test.
German health minister Jens Spahn warned this week that strict restrictions are likely to be reimposed as it will “some weeks” for those most at risk to be fully inoculated.
Curfews are in place and are likely to tighten around Easter, with restricted hospitality hours and national travel limited to curb spread.
Spain was one of few countries to relax restrictions in the lead-up to Christmas.
The country, including popular holiday hotspots in the Balearics and Canary Islands, have signalled a strong desire to reopen to Brit travellers, a vital cornerstone of its tourism economy.
Spanish authorities have previously said UK travellers who have been vaccinated could get a ‘green corridor’ to the country if the EU can’t agree on a stance on controversial vaccine passports.
Concerns about rising case numbers have seen restrictions tighten in many regions, curbing national travel and limiting hospitality hours at night.
From Monday, March 22, all regions in the country will be in its highest ‘red’ or ‘orange’ zones.
The island of Sardinia had been the only region not subject to the restrictions since March 1 when its rules eased.
It had been the only part of the country where bars and restaurants could open at night, but is now joining the rest of the country in tightening restrictions.
Portugal has already announced it plans to open its borders to British tourists from May 17.
In the meantime its borders with neighbouring Spain are set to remain shut until at least after Easter as the countries try to contain the new wave’s spread.
Health authorities said travel restrictions such as a negative Covid test or quarantine, stay in force for arrivals from the UK and other countries dealing with new variants of the virus.
Portugal has also been removed from the UK’s ‘red list’ of countries from which travel is heavily restricted. It had been added on to the list due to its close links to Brazil, where another worrying variant emerged and began spreading fast.
The change means travellers arriving in the UK will be able to spend their ten-day quarantine at home rather than in a government-approved hotel at a cost of £1,750.
The country is set to reopen cautiously from next week, despite high numbers of infections and busy hospitals.
It plans to reopen to UK tourists from May 14- although travellers will need to show proof of vaccination, a negative covid test or proof of antibodies against the virus.
Greece is struggling to balance its already fragile economy with ongoing restrictions.
Leaders said its popular archaeological tourism sites from Monday along with hair and beauty salons.
A nighttime curfew nationwide will remain in place but start two hours later at 9pm during weekends.
The nearby Republic of Cyprus has also said it will open its borders to vaccinated Brits from the beginning of May.
The country begins a new three-week lockdown today, with shops, hotels, cultural and sporting facilities closed.
Poland has already lifted quarantine requirements for travellers who have received the vaccine.
Visitors from abroad, including the UK, will not be required to self-isolate when arriving in Poland if they can prove they have already had the jab.