Grant Shapps says easing UK travel restrictions is 'off the cards'
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Though many Britons may be hopeful for a summer holiday this year, Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps has suggested the future is too uncertain to “put an exact date” on when leisure travel may resume. It comes as the UK launches an array of new travel restrictions in a bid to tackle foreign variants, such as the ones found in South Africa and Brazil.
Speaking on Sky News, Mr Shapps said: “I am Transport Secretary so I absolutely want people to be able to travel but it is a fact that right now it is illegal to leave your home to go on holiday.
“It is illegal to do that in the UK or around the world so I am afraid, at the moment, that is off the cards.”
He continued: “I don’t want to unnecessarily raise peoples hopes.
“The truth is we just don’t know how the vaccine will respond both to the vaccines and, of course, how people respond to social distancing and those kinds of measures and therefore exactly when we will be able to unlock.
“So I am afraid I am unable to give you a definitive will there or won’t there be the opportunity to take holidays this next year either at home or abroad.”
It follows an announcement from Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock on Tuesday which unveiled new hotel quarantine rules, enhanced testing for travellers and ramped up fines for those who refuse to obey the rules.
These new restrictions, along with the ongoing vaccination effort, could be the key to “unlocking” according to Mr Shapps.
“Fortunately, I think the total number of vaccinations injected is 13.1 million overall in this country, which I just checked actually is all of the EU put together in terms of the number of people vaccinated.
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“We are going great guns on that.
“That’s a very important part of how we get to unlock the situation and the Prime Minister will make a statement on this and say more on this on February 22, when he will be able to set out a sort of route to unlock.
“Very similar to what happened last year. but now this time not just with the benefit of seeing reductions through the lockdown but also reductions through the vaccine.
“I should also say through the massive testing programme in place which has enabled us to surge the testing in certain areas where we have seen these variants as well.
“We have a lot more tools in our armoury now. I can’t give you an exact date at this stage, but the Prime Minister will say more and then we will have a series of dates which we will be able to gradually unlock things if we see cases continue to reduce and deaths swell.”
Until then, the Transport Secretary recommends Britons “sit tight and follow the rules.”
However, there has been some speculation the restrictions could last until a booster vaccine is rolled out some time in the Autumn months.
This scenario would be most likely if it is found the current vaccines, including Pfizer and AstraZeneca, are unable to combat variants.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Hancock explained: “The first task is to vaccinate the population, and if we get good news on the vaccination impact on hospitalisations and deaths to form people who have new mutations then we will be in a better place.”
He continued: “If we do not get such news then we will have to use the updated vaccines to protect against the variants of concern.”
If the current vaccine roll-out is able to beat international variants, rules are more likely to be relaxed.
“It might be that we get enough efficacy from the vaccine against hospitalisations and death that they work perfectly well to hold this down,” Mr Hancock said.
“We just don’t know that yet.”
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