Much of mainland Europe is now firmly in the grip of the more contagious variant of Covid-19 originally discovered in Kent, sending countries back into various forms of lockdown.
The data on variants and their spread, compiled by genomic researchers, shows more than 75 per cent of coronavirus cases sequenced on the continent in the first week of March were found to be the Kent variant, up from around 14 per cent at the end of last year.
This data is now being pored over by the Government. Over the next few weeks, it will help ministers place countries into one of three traffic light categories that will determine what restrictions holidaymakers will face on their return to Britain.
The Government has confirmed it will pursue a “cautious approach”, and highlights the “risk posed by variants of concern”. Ministers have also promised to confirm in advance whether leisure travel can resume on May 17, the third stage of the roadmap out of lockdown.
The rules will state there will be no isolation requirement for travel from countries in the green category, although pre-departure and post-arrival tests will still be needed. It is likely to only apply to countries with low levels of variants, and high levels of vaccination. The red and amber restrictions would remain as they are now, with the requirement to enter quarantine or self-isolation upon return.
For Europe, the picture is relatively bleak and it will take a substantial improvement before the majority of countries can find a spot on the green list.
According to data published by the CoVariants project, which compiles international open-access genomic analysis, around 3 per cent of cases were identified as the South African and Brazilian variants – strains scientists fear could be more resistant to Covid-19 vaccines – compared with less than 1 per in the UK over the same period. Countries will now be trying to trace their contacts, to stop their spread growing.
French President Emmanuel Macron blamed the Kent variant for a resurgence of infections when he announced a third national lockdown for the country on Thursday. New rules will see schools move to remote learning and non-essential shops shut.