Leading industry figures insist a May 17 restart for travel remains “perfectly possible” despite fears the date may be put back because of a surge in Covid-19 around the EU.

Media reports at the weekend suggested overseas summer holidays may be jeopardised by rising infection rates in destinations and defence minister Ben Wallace said the ban on non-essential travel may be extended.

But speaking at the Travel Weekly Future of Travel Forum, Iata UK and Ireland country manager Simon McNamara said a restart on May 17 remains “perfectly possible”.

McNamara acknowledged: “What worries me is what we haven’t seen coming.

“What has happened in the last year is that something crops up that we least expect and we go back to square one.”

But he insisted: “We have a roadmap, we have hard dates. It means something has to happen. The vaccine roll-out and everything else is pointing in the right direction.”

Iata is among industry bodies contributing to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce, due to report to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on April 12 with recommendations on how to resume international travel.

McNamara said: “We’re expecting to see what a restart looks like, the shape and size, by April 12.  So we have a clear month after that. There is no reason why we can’t have a meaningful restart from May 17.”

He argued: “There is quite a bit to do before then, for airlines to put capacity on sale and bring aircraft back, but we hope to see a meaningful restart to make something of the summer.”

Abta director of industry relations Susan Deer agreed, saying: “We’ve had confirmation the report will be published on April 12. That does give time to prepare for May 17. “

But she said: “The vaccine roll-out in the UK and in destination markets has to have an impact on the assessment of how safe it is to travel.

“The concern, and we can’t get away from it, is we’re dealing with a virus. We’re dealing with public health and that leads to a lot of unknowns.

“We just have to make sure we build a plan that is fit to adapt.”

Business Travel Association chief executive Clive Wratten described media reports questioning the restart date as “pretty unhelpful”.

He said: “The report hasn’t gone to the Prime Minister. The key thing for us in the next two to three weeks is to do as much as we can to influence the government that May 17 is feasible to restart.”

But Wratten told the forum: “What concerns me is the government’s chopping and changing because inconsistency just destroys confidence.

“We’re going to have to find a way to travel safely with this. That is the only option. I worry that they go to a zero-risk strategy that is going to have long-term effects.”