Sources close to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce say speculation that travel won’t resume until after May 17 is “frustrating” and insist “nothing has changed”.

Hopes of a May 17 restart for travel suffered a blow as the government imposed a £5,000 fine on anyone attempting to leave the country on holiday while a travel ban remains in place.

Updated Health Protection Regulations, which MPs were due to debate this Thursday (March 25), led to media reports that “holidays will be banned until the end of June” since this is the date the regulations end.

The government said the fines were “to stop people travelling before May 17”, although ministers again declared it “too soon” to book summer holidays.

On Sunday (March 21), defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “It is important we don’t import new variants. I haven’t booked my holiday. It would be premature.”

A leading industry source told Travel Weekly: “It’s frustrating, but the decisions have not been made yet. It doesn’t change anything.

“People are reading the legislation to mean there will be no travel until the date in the regulations, but it does not necessarily mean that.

“There is a process in place. There is a report going to the PM [on April 12]. If it’s not in the report, it’s not going to be part of the plan. The taskforce is the only show in town.”

Europe ‘biggest concern’

However, rising infection rates in the EU could jeopardise a May restart.

Speaking in the Lords on Monday (March 22), health minister Lord Bethell said: “We’re aware [of] the possibility we will have to ‘red list’ all our European neighbours.”

The source acknowledged: “Europe has become the biggest concern. It’s not in a good position.”

Yet they added: “We’ve never been fixed on May 17. It’s an indicative earliest date we’re working to.”

Travel traffic light system

The taskforce is considering a traffic light system to categorise destinations.

The source confirmed: “This is a strong proposal, but not absolutely worked up. Say it’s a system of red, amber and green, the question is what amber and green look like and how it will be phased over the summer.

“The idea there won’t be changes is unrealistic. There is a need to incorporate a changing health situation [with] certainty about what happens when things change. “We would like hotel quarantine to go because it’s the biggest barrier to travel, but the reality is fairly robust measures will be retained.”

Iata UK country manager Simon McNamara told a Travel Weekly Future of Travel forum: “The decisions will be taken by government and, unfortunately, there may be some surprises. They are not going to abandon a red list.”

Abta director of industry relations Susan Deer agreed: “Quarantine is a deterrent, [but] realistically there will be red-list countries.”

The UK’ big two operators, Tui and Jet2holidays, are still working towards a May 17 restart.

Hays Travel chair Dame Irene Hays told the forum she expected “a very mixed picture across the summer with uncertainty in some places running through into the autumn”.

Boris Johnson suggested on Tuesday (March 23) that an announcement on overseas travel could come earlier than expected, saying: “A lot of people want to know what will happen on the holiday front. I hope to say more on April 5.”