Holidays within the UK could return as early as the beginning of July, the culture secretary has announced, saying that the government had ambitious plans to revive the tourism sector.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing, Oliver Dowden said any return of domestic holidays would have to be done cautiously, as reopening the industry only to close it again would be more damaging.
“I would love to get the tourism sector up as quickly as we possibly can. We’ve set this very ambitious plan to try and get it up and running by the beginning of July,” he said.
“Clearly, we can only do it if it’s safe to do so because I think the worse thing for our tourism sector would be to start, then see the R rate rise out of control, see a second peak that overwhelms the NHS that we then have to slam on the brakes again.
“But, believe me, when we get to the point when we can have British tourism back, perhaps apart from the prime minister you won’t get a bigger champion of the great British break than me.”
R, or the 'effective reproduction number', is a way of rating a disease’s ability to spread. It’s the average number of people on to whom one infected person will pass the virus. For an R of anything above 1, an epidemic will grow exponentially. Anything below 1 and an outbreak will fizzle out – eventually.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the estimated R for coronavirus was between 2 and 3 – higher than the value for seasonal flu, but lower than for measles. That means each person would pass it on to between two and three people on average, before either recovering or dying, and each of those people would pass it on to a further two to three others, causing the total number of cases to snowball over time.
The reproduction number is not fixed, though. It depends on the biology of the virus; people's behaviour, such as social distancing; and a population’s immunity. A country may see regional variations in its R number, depending on local factors like population density and transport patterns.
Hannah Devlin Science correspondent
His comments came after Patricia Yates, the acting chief executive of the official tourist agency VisitBritain, warned on Tuesday that the tourism sector expected to lose £37bn from the impact of Covid-19 – a figure that doesn’t factor in the effect of a possible 14-day quarantine for all visitors coming to Britain.
A Downing Street spokesman said they were looking at a proposal by the body to add an extra bank holiday to the UK calendar this year, potentially around the school half-term holiday in October, in order to make up for lost earnings from the two May bank holidays spent in lockdown.
Dowden also used the briefing to announce that the government planned to use £150m left in dormant bank and building society accounts to help prop up charities and social enterprises responding to the coronavirus crisis.
“This funding will support organisations that are at the heart of their communities, building on our unprecedented package of financial support for the voluntary sector,” he said.
“Through our proposals to further expand the dormant assets scheme, we want to unlock hundreds of millions more pounds for good causes, while keeping customer protection at the heart of the programme.”
The money will be taken from accounts that have lain untouched for 15 years and for which no owner could be found, as part of the government’s dormant assets scheme. The initiative, which gives the proceeds from abandoned accounts to good causes, was launched in 2011. Thirty firms, including all major high street banks, have voluntarily transferred funds to the scheme.
The £150m will include accelerating the release of £71m of new funds from dormant accounts alongside £79m that has already been unlocked and will be repurposed to help charities’ coronavirus response and recovery.
The money adds to the £750m of extra funding for frontline charities announced by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in April, a sum described as insufficient to save some third sector organisations from collapse.
Some of the best-known national charities have warned they are in dire straits as revenue from charity shops and fundraising events dries up during the coronavirus lockdown.