Health secretary Sajid Javid has insisted tightened travel restrictions could be eased “in the days and weeks ahead” if the Omicron variant becomes dominant.
Speaking in the House of Commons to confirm the introduction of ‘Plan B’ measures, Javid said the additional curbs had been introduced to “buy time” and slow the spread of Omicron and insisted they would be “kept under review”.
But he said there would be less need for any travel restrictions if the new variant took hold.
In response to a question from Birmingham Hall Green MP Tahir Ali about the impact on those unable to visit loved ones overseas, he said: “When it comes to travel measures such as the recent announcements in respect of the red list, I think the honourable gentleman will understand why the government took that action to buy time and to try to slow any incursion of this new variant.
“I am afraid it is just not possible to give a guarantee for any particular country that there will not potentially be any future measures.
“As he has raised the important issue of travel measures, one thing I would say is that very soon, in the days and weeks that lie ahead, if, as I think is likely, we see many more infections and this variant becomes the dominant variant, there will be less need to have any kind of travel restrictions at all.”
Javid was also challenged on support for the travel and aviation sectors but refused to be drawn on additional financial stimulus.
Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, said: “Last month, the aviation and travel sectors were showing real signs of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. Their reimposition has seriously dented confidence in people being able to travel, and that is having a direct impact on jobs in an industry that is already on its knees.
“What discussions have been had in government about reintroducing support packages for critical sectors of the UK economy, without which we will not have the economic recovery to be able to pay for the public services we need?”
But Javid responded: “I am sure that my honourable friend will agree that the best support we could provide for the transport sector right now is to remove these recent restrictions.
“I am confident that, as we learn more about this variant and if, as is expected, over time it becomes the dominant variant, we can start removing those restrictions very quickly.”