Holidays abroad are "extremely unlikely" for most Britons this summer due to the risk of importing new variants of Covid-19, a scientist who advises the government said on Saturday, leaving airlines and travel companies bracing for a second lost peak season.
Britain has banned travel for most people during the current lockdown and has said overseas holidays will not be allowed until May 17 at the earliest.
But Mike Tildesley, a scientist on a government advisory body, said the risk of importing vaccine-resistant variants back into the UK would likely scupper the nation's annual getaway.
"I think international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think, extremely unlikely," Tildesley, a professor of infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, told BBC Radio on Saturday.
His warning is a further setback for the travel industry's recovery prospects during the peak vacation season.
Airlines and holiday companies such as British Airways (part of International Consolidated Airlines), easyJet and TUI are desperate for travel to resume after a year of Covid-19 restrictions which has left them struggling financially.
Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group which reports into the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said travel overseas and the variants that could be imported could undermine Britain's vaccine programme.
"I think we are running a real risk if we do start to have lots of people going overseas in July, for instance, and August, because of the potential for bringing more of these new variants back into the country," Tildesley said.
Britain has already given half of its adult population a first vaccination, putting it far ahead of the rest of Europe, but existing vaccines are thought to be not as effective against some variants now surging in parts of Europe.