The home secretary has infuriated the travel industry after joining a chorus of ministers warning against booking overseas holidays this summer.
Ms Patel said: “Well, it’s too early. It’s far too early.
“It is too early and we have to look at the data at every single stage and the roadmap outlined by the prime minister makes that abundantly clear.”
At present all holidays in the UK and beyond are illegal.
The government is reviving the Global Travel Taskforce, which will report on 12 April “with recommendations aimed at facilitating a return to international travel as soon as is possible”. Overseas travel for non-essential purposes will not begin before 17 May.
The home secretary also said: “That’s looking to the future in terms of how things may change.
“We are, as we all know, it’s far too early to even contemplate any particular changes right now.”
The home secretary’s warning follows similar calls by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, not to book holidays.
Ms Patel’s warning was quickly condemned by senior travel industry figures.
The general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association, Brian Strutton, said: “It is unbelievable that yet again we have senior ministers stomping on the public’s desire to get away on holiday after the good news from just two days ago.”
Paul Charles, who is leading the Save Our Summer campaign involving hundreds of holiday firms, said: “The public have taken the prime minister at his word and are working on the restart of travel on 17 May.
“It’s a pity the home secretary wishes to return to the days of ministers contradicting each other. Her duty as an elected MP is to help the sector recover, not dilute it and see jobs disappear.”
A spokesperson for Abta, the travel association, said: “You can book a summer holiday now with confidence by booking a package holiday through an Abta member, and many travel companies are also offering additional flexibility to take into account the ongoing uncertainty created by the pandemic.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, representing major British carriers, said: “Like the government, we believe international travel is possible this summer, through a risk-based approach to removing current restrictions and as soon as it is safe to do so.”
A spokesperson for Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, said: “The UK’s successful vaccine rollout programme eliminates the need for these draconian travel restrictions from May onwards.
“If all over-50s are vaccinated by May as predicted by Boris Johnson, then the risk of the Covid virus to the health service is severely diminished and this must give rise to the removal of travel restrictions on UK citizens.”
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, has called for even tougher restrictions on returning travellers. The Labour MP tweeted: “It beggars belief that UK government continues to refuse to put in place a comprehensive hotel quarantine system.
“These strains present a real risk of undermining the gains of the vaccine and the hopes all of us share. Yet our borders remain open to these risks.”
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