HOLIDAYS abroad for Brits this summer are "highly unlikely", a Government scientist warned today.
Dr Mike Tildesley said that allowing holidaymakers to flock to foreign countries could "jeopardise" the UK's vaccination campaign and let new Covid variants in.
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But thousands of Brits have already booked breaks abroad after Boris Johnson earmarked May 17 as the earliest possible date people could travel internationally in the lockdown roadmap.
The PM’s announcement on lifting UK travel restrictions sparked a stampede for bookings – with Jet2, the UK’s second-largest tour operator, seeing demand rocket by 1,000 per cent.
And Tui, the biggest tour operator in Britain, also reported a 500 per cent increase in bookings to sunshine resorts such as Greece, Spain and Turkey.
It comes as a deadly third wave is sweeping Europe, fuelled by the AstraZeneca vaccine fiasco.
The EU's shambolic jab rollout, combined with a sharp rise in infections, has seen several areas plunged back into lockdown in the past week.
Paris went into a month-long lockdown from midnight on Friday after 35,000 cases were recorded in a 24-hour period after rising concern from scientists about outbreaks of the South Africa variant.
Dr Tildesley, who is on the Spi-M modelling group and advises the Government, said: "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.
"What is really dangerous is if we jeopardise our vaccination campaign by having these variants where the vaccines don't work as effectively spreading more rapidly."
Dr Tildesley, associate professor of infectious disease modelling at Warwick University, said he is particularly concerned about variants with the E484K mutation: "That’s the one that’s in the South African strain that we’re worried about, that we feel make the vaccines less effective.
"That is a bit more prevalent in Europe so I think that’s a real concern, that if we do start seeing more of those cases coming in, then they start to evade the vaccine and that could cause more problems for us."
And Professor Dirk Brockmann, a leading epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, told Times Radio that Brits should not be considering European holidays when lockdown restrictions ease.
He said: "International travel is a means of new variants to distribute themselves across the globe.
"That's how we do it. That's how it got everywhere in the world.
"As long as there's no massive immunity due to vaccination it is certainly not a factor that would help the situation especially when new variants are introduced and variants of concern in various regions in the world."
HOLS ABROAD 'EXTREMELY UNLIKELY'
Experts have urged Brits not to book holidays to the EU this summer amid fears that travel restrictions could persist beyond the spring – yet many have already snapped up flights and accommodation as lockdown takes its toll.
Current restrictions mean anyone travelling into the UK from a 'red-list' of countries must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.
The European Commission has said it hopes to launch its EU-wide vaccine passport scheme on May 17.
Europe’s rise in cases comes as countries continue to struggle with the vaccine rollout, which has been hampered by political infighting, supply problems and growing skepticism over the AstraZeneca jab.
According to The Times, scientific advisers are becoming increasingly concerned that Europe’s third wave could cause a rise in cases in the UK within weeks.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has urged the government to take a cautious approach amid the surge in infections on the continent – but have not called for a change to Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Britain saw a huge rise in cases in late December amid the spread of the Kent variant, which now makes up a significant number of infections in Europe.
A government source said that the rise in Europe was being watched closely, adding: “It’s a fact that when waves one and two hit Europe they hit us afterwards.”
A rise in cases in Europe has often prefigured an increase in the UK, scientists have noted.
In late August, both France and Spain saw a dramatic rise in infections – eventually prompting the reintroduction of restrictions in both countries.
This was followed by a sharp increase in cases in Britain in the Autumn, with the seven-day average of cases skyrocketing from 3,989 on September 21 to 13,970 on October 12.
Professor Neil Ferguson said “important decisions” are coming up as the Government eases the ban on international travel – and warned the UK must not let the South Africa variant become dominant.
He predicted between 5 to 10 per cent of cases in Europe are the South African variant.
Britain has managed to contain the spread of the strain through surge testing in affected areas, with only 351 known cases reported yesterday – an increase of seven in the past week.
The South African strain is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original coronavirus variant, meaning it spreads faster and is less easily controlled by lockdown measures.
Officials in Europe have said the vaccine rollout cannot keep up with the rise in cases, particularly as infectious new strains emerge.
Jens Spahn, Germany’s health minister, said: “We have to be honest about the situation – in Europe we don’t have enough vaccines to stop a third wave through vaccinations alone.
“The numbers are rising, the share of mutations is large and there are some fairly challenging weeks ahead of us.”
EU leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron were criticised earlier this year for making baseless allegations about the efficacy of the jab in older patients, which has fuelled a wave of anti-vax sentiment.
The bloc also sparked a diplomatic row with Britain after threatening to block exports of the jab in January amid a furious spat with Astrazeneca over the delivery of millions of doses.
President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen also this week threatened to seize vaccines from Britain as she demanded Europe got a bigger share of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
And this week, a string of EU leaders were forced into an embarrassing U-turn after banning the jab over unsubstantiated blood clot fears – against the recommendation of the World Health Organisation.
More than a dozen EU nations had halted its use over unsubstantiated fears it may trigger blood clots after what leaders admitted was a political decision.
Within minutes of regulator EMA's announcement yesterday, Italy became the first state to say it will resume use of the jab.
And France and Germany also declared the vaccine was in fact safe and effective, with Ms Merkel finally admitting she “would take the Astrazeneca vaccine”.
Germany's largest state Rhineland-Palatinate, with a population of four million, became the first reintroduce it.
Authorities in Berlin said two large vaccination centers that offer the AstraZeneca jab to people in the German capital will reopen.
Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Slovenia resumed use of the vaccine yesterday, while Portugal will resume on Monday, followed by Spain and the Netherlands next week.
Unlike Britain, many countries in Europe opted against a full lockdown over the winter period, with countries such as France and Italy keeping schools open.
Boris Johnson on Thursday pledged to stick to his lockdown roadmap, which will see all restrictions end on June 21, despite a month-long delay to the under 50s receiving the jab.
Britain has vaccinated more than 26.2 million people, and cases and hospitalisations have dramatically declined in recent weeks.
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