Could summer holidays lead to a winter lockdown?
Experts warn that Britons going on summer holidays this year could jeopardise all the progress made from the national lockdown and vaccine rollout. Ultimately, leading to another lockdown.
Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, the world has been hanging from a thread of endless ‘what-ifs’. Countries around the globe have been tackling this unprecedented crisis using a combination of expert advice, trial-and-error and careful calculation. Yet, the methods utilised have ended up mostly the same.
Governments the world over authorised lockdowns, set up travel restrictions and imposed social distancing measures. There have been hits as well as misses. Countless lives lost, and economic conditions are in decline. On the other hand, the new Covid-19 vaccines have brought a kindling of hope that ‘normal’ life may return. That, and a myriad of questions and doubts.
Stage 1 of England’s roadmap out of the third national lockdown is well underway. As we rejoice at the prospect of meeting loved ones, we still patiently await the other restrictions to lift. Soon enough, non-essential businesses and pubs will reopen. And a lot of us can look forward to that haircut we have wanted since last summer. Or that fresh pint that until now seemed a distant possibility. But most of all, we greedily anticipate Stage 3 of the lockdown lifting.
Summer holidays, of course.
As per the current roadmap plan, holidays abroad are to become permissible from 17 May. However, there are discussions of introducing new laws which will continue restricting international travel. If the new regulations are passed, anybody travelling without a ‘reasonable excuse’ may be fined up to a heavy £5,000.
A possible third wave of infections throughout continental Europe and expert warnings have brought about this dire likelihood. PM Boris Johnson expects the new wave of infections documented throughout Europe to ‘wash up on our shores as well.’
What are scientists saying about going on summer holidays?
Professor Kamlesh Khunti, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has stated, ‘I don’t think people should be planning on summer holidays abroad until next year. It’s been a hard lockdown, we are doing so well, we cannot jeopardise this now. Our rates are coming down, our vaccination [rate] is fantastic, and the biggest fear we have is new variants that the vaccines don’t work as well against.’
The new Coronavirus variants have already amassed a reputation of being resilient against vaccines. When tests were carried out against the South African variant, it was discovered that vaccines are not entirely useless against the strain. Studies concluded that the immune response from a vaccine ‘may not be as strong or prolonged.’
As Coronavirus, like all viruses, has a knack for changing over time, several mutated forms circulate the globe. The main variants found in the UK are the South African strain, Brazilian strain and, of course, the UK strain.
‘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,’ said Dr. Mike Tildesley on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. Dr. Tildesley is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M).
He went on to add, ‘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.’
A third wave in Europe!
The scientists’ views were echoed by the shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas Symonds when he said, ‘The renewed surges of Covid across Europe are really worrying. The UK’s first priority has to be to protect the progress made by the vaccine – that means we need a comprehensive hotel quarantine system without further delay.
‘Of course, we all want international travel to resume, but safety has to come first. It is too early to say if there can be any changes to travel advice on 17 May, as numbers in many European countries are increasing so sharply. We have to be led by the science, not arbitrary dates.’
EU countries have already started to prepare for the possible third wave of Covid infections. Amidst a slow rollout of vaccines, renewed restrictions are being put in place across the continent. A large portion of France is now under lockdown following a substantial spike in infection in a single day that totalled 35,000 recorded cases. Similarly, Italy has shut down schools and shop due to rising numbers. Cultural venues and non-essential shops have been made to close their doors in Poland.
The defence secretary, Ben Wallace told Sky News: ‘We can’t be deaf and blind to what’s going on outside the United Kingdom. If you look in Europe, and the increases in infections, we can’t put at risk the huge amount of effort, by the taxpayer, by the NHS, by our scientists, in developing this vaccine.’
As current restrictions are gradually relaxing in the UK, a ‘global travel taskforce’ headed by transport secretary Grant Shapps is preparing to report to the PM on 12 April. The report will advise on and help settle the future of summer holidays and foreign travel.
Another possible solution in the form of a ‘vaccine passport’ or a ‘vaccine certificate’ is also under consideration in the Cabinet Office. Such a document would allow vaccinated individuals to commence travel freely. Greece and Israel have already introduced similar systems, while several countries in Europe are considering it. Many believe that such a ‘passport’ is necessary for the future of safe travel.