The ban on non-essential international travel to and from England will stay until at least May 17, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, prolonging the pain for airlines, airports and holiday companies hit by the pandemic travel slump.
But would-be holidaymakers will be given clarity on making plans for the summer by April 12, when a review on how to restart travel safely will be published.
“The government will determine when international travel should resume, which will be no earlier than 17 May,” it said.
Johnson told parliament there would still be time to plan for summer trips.
“I believe that setting a deadline of April 12 for the report ... will give people time to make their plans for summer and if things go well ... then I do believe there is every chance of an aviation recovery later this year,” he said.
Airlines like Britain’s easyJet and British Airways are counting on a summer recovery after close to a year with minimal revenues due to travel restrictions. If they cannot, analysts say most airlines will need to raise more funds to survive after burning through their cash reserves.
The April review will provide recommendations about when and how full international travel should resume, while managing the risks of new variants of coronavirus.
Much will depend on the spread of variants deemed “of concern”, as well as vaccine roll-outs at home and abroad.
Britain tightened its borders earlier in February, introducing additional COVID-19 testing requirements and hotel quarantines for arrivals from some countries over worries about new variants that might be more resistant to current vaccines.
Unwinding restrictions could involve making greater use of the test to release scheme, under which those arriving from abroad pay for a test to shorten a 10-day quarantine.
The government is also looking at a system of allowing vaccinated people to travel more freely abroad, it said.
But such a system would have to be fair and not unduly disadvantage those who have not been vaccinated, it said, warning it would take time to implement.
Britain is looking at providing a clear framework for international travel standards with the World Health Organization and other partners, the government added.