Anyone trying to leave England to travel abroad without “good reason” could be hit with a £5,000 fine under new coronavirus laws that are due to come into force next week.
Holidays abroad are not currently allowed under lockdown rules which come to an end on Monday, but MPs will this week vote on legislation to ban leaving the UK.
The earliest date that people will be allowed to travel abroad for non-essential purposes, such as holidays, is 17 May. A review of how to restart international travel is due on 12 April.
The new legislation, upon which MPs are expected to vote on Thursday, covers the period until the end of June.
Officials told the Times that the new legislation did not necessarily mean that holidays would be banned until later in the summer.
However, another wave of coronavirus cases in Europe and a slow vaccination programme across the continent have poured cold water on sun seekers’ hopes of a summer holiday this year.
Speaking to Sky News this morning, health secretary Matt Hancock said that it was too early to tell whether an extension of the travel ban would be necessary.
“We are seeing this third wave rising in some parts of Europe and we’re also seeing new variants and it is very important that we protect the progress that we’ve been able to make here in the UK,” he said.
But industry body Airlines UK insisted that travel would begin again as planned on 17 May.
Tim Alderslade, the group’s chief executive, said: “Nothing has changed with this legislation, the Government has been clear all along that it will report on 12 April its intent to restart international travel from 17 May, and airlines are busy working with Ministers through the Global Travel Taskforce to set out the criteria and framework that will enable this to happen safely.
“A tiered system, based on risk and adaptable to changing circumstances with the virus, means travel can resume this summer, and all our focus will remain on agreeing the structure that can make this a reality.”
His comments came as the Spanish government announced that it would lift its ban on visitors from the UK from 30 March.
Ministers have warned the public to delay booking holidays this year, in case they are unable to go ahead.
Helen Whatley, the social care minister, yesterday said rising Covid-19 infection rates in Europe added to uncertainty that UK arrivals would be allowed to travel freely this summer.
“My advice would be to anybody right now is just to hold off on booking international travel,” she told the BBC.
“It just feels pre-mature to be booking international holidays at the moment.”
Her comments came after defence secretary Ben Wallace refused to rule out an extension to the existing ban on international travel beyond 17 May.