Pressure is growing on Boris Johnson to add France and Germany to the UK’s travel ‘red list’, according to reports.
The PM is said to have been informed that banning passengers from the countries is necessary to reduce the threat of variants.
An MP told The Times that coronavirus tsar Jonathan Van-Tam urged the move in a recent briefing.
The minister told the newspaper: “Anyone on that call would understand that he thinks the ‘red list’ needs expanding.
“France was the one that kept coming up but Germany was also mentioned because of increased numbers of variants.”
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Mr Johnson has warned that the UK must be prepared for a third wave of infections amid a rise in cases in Europe.
But he has vowed to “bash on” with the lifting of lockdown, of which the next stage is set to take place on Monday.
Several countries in Europe have enforced strict new measures to try and combat a surge in cases and slow vaccine rollouts.
Currently, any UK residents returning from a ‘red list’ country have to quarantine in an approved hotel for 10 days.
Sources have suggested that adding France to the list would be “disproportionate” and downplayed its likelihood.
But Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, is also said to be “very concerned” about the situation in Europe.
Both he and Professor Van-Tam, his deputy, are reported as being in favour of implementing tougher border controls.
This is said to include plans to introduce lateral flow tests for lorry drivers on their arrival in an attempt to keep out mutant strains.
It is thought that the South African and Brazilian variants of coronavirus now make up 40 per cent of all cases in some parts of France.
Both strains are more resistant to vaccines, scientists have said.
Recreational international travel – or holidays – is slated to be allowed from May 17 under the PM’s lockdown roadmap.
But this tentative date is looking increasingly unlikely, with expert Professor Neil Ferguson urging people to take locals trips this year.
It is anticipated that this trade-off will allow people in the UK to have a more ‘normal’ summer, like people in Australia have experienced.
Prof Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines “might drop substantially, 60% or 50%” in the face of variants.
“And what that means is if we then allow transmission to resume which it is likely to do as we relax social distancing measures, we have that faint risk of being back in a situation where we have rising infections, rising hospitalisations with people who have been vaccinated,” he said.
“And back to, in the worst case, where we were in January.
“So, the effectiveness, exactly how effective vaccines is, is very critical to how quickly we’re able.. to relax measures.”
Asked if he was therefore in favour of keeping borders closed, Prof Ferguson said: “I certainly am in favour of relaxing border measures at a slower rate than we relax controls within the country, and doing all we can to reduce the risk of importation of variants which might undermine our vaccination programme.”
Asked what he wanted to see, he said that meant having finished “vaccinating everybody under 50, which will be late summer, and having vaccines in our stockpile which we know work very effectively against those variants”.
“Conservatively and being risk averse at the moment, I think we should be planning on summer holidays in the UK, not overseas,” he added.
He said most people travelling to and from France at the moment on essential business or for commerce were exempt from quarantine and testing measures.
“I think we need to reconsider that, not the quarantine bit, but for instance introducing testing of everybody coming back, including those essential workers,” he said.
The PM told a Downing Street press conference yesterday that it was “too early to say” whether foreign holidays will be allowed.
He said he hoped to give more information about foreign travel on April 5 but that, with cases rising in Europe, “things certainly look difficult for the time being”.
“A lot of people do want to know about what’s going to happen on the holiday front and I know there’s a great deal of curiosity and interest,” Mr Johnson said.
“All I can say is it’s just too early to say and my advice is to everybody to wait for the global travel task force to report.
“We’ve heard already that there are other European countries where the disease is now rising so things certainly look difficult for the time being but we will be able to say more we hope in a few days’ time, I certainly hope to say more by April 5.”