Boris Johnson has not “given up” on allowing Britons to jet abroad from 17 May as he raised the prospect of holidaymakers being able to use cheaper and faster COVID tests on their return to the UK.
Under the prime minister’s roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions, international travel without a reasonable excuse will not be allowed to happen earlier than 17 May.
However, with many countries across Europe suffering a third wave of COVID infections, the government has not yet been able to confirm whether foreign holidays will be allowed beyond that date – leaving many families uncertain whether to book a summer break abroad.
Speaking on a visit to an AstraZeneca laboratory in Macclesfield on Tuesday, Mr Johnson acknowledged people were “impatient” to book their holidays as soon as they can.
But he said the government needed to be “prudent at this stage”.
The prime minister also responded to a call from the boss of easyJet to allow people to use lateral flow tests – rather than more expensive PCR tests – as part of border requirements when returning from abroad.
In a document published on Monday night, the government said – when non-essential international travel is allowed – it will be based on a “traffic-light” system with those returning from “green” countries not needing to isolate on their return to the UK.
However, the document added “pre-departure and post-arrival tests would still be needed”.
Asked whether lateral flow tests could be allowed to fulfil these testing requirements, the prime minister said: “I do think we want to make things as easy as we possibly can.
“I think the boss of easyJet is right to focus on this issue. We’re going to see what we can do to make things as flexible and as affordable as possible.
“I do want to see international travel start up again. We have to be realistic – a lot of the destinations we want to go to at the moment are suffering a new wave of the illness, of COVID, as we know.
“We can’t do it immediately, but that doesn’t mean we’ve given up on 17 May when we’ll be saying as much as we can as soon as we can about international travel.
“I know how impatient people are to book their holidays if they possibly can. But we just have to be prudent at this stage.”
Mr Johnson has already announced that, from Friday, everyone in England will be able to access free lateral flow tests twice a week.