Holidays 2021: UK 'really concerned' about Beta Covid variant ahead of traffic light update

The UK is still "really concerned" about a variant of coronavirus which forced the government to swiftly bring down additional restrictions on travel to the country two weeks ago, a minister has warned.

The comment by Gillian Keegan will be viewed as a bad omen by many British holidaymakers hoping a travel update later this week will result in popular holiday destinations, such as France, having restrictions upon them lifted.

France is currently the only country on the UK's 'amber plus list', which means anyone returning from there must quarantine for up to 10 days - regardless of their vaccination status.

Education minister Ms Keegan told ITV News: "When we say we're concerned about the rise of new variants, the one we're really concerned about at the moment is the Beta variant - we've been looking at that one and that's why [France was] put on a special list."

There are also concerns about the Beta variant, which was first discovered in South Africa, being prevalent in Spain as well.

But Ms Keegan struck an optimistic tone when looking ahead to travel changes, adding: "The transport secretary, he does his review every three weeks, that's on Thursday this week, I'm sure we'll all be waiting to see what he has to say."

Minister: 'We're really concerned... but things will get easier'

The UK's traffic light system for foreign travel has come in for criticism this week, with many saying it's too confusing and should be simplified.

There are currently five categories in the system; green, where travel is unrestricted, amber, where the fully vaccinated can return from without isolating, and red, which mandates all returnees to quarantine in hotels costing £1,750.

Then there is the green watchlist, which is designed to warn travellers that countries on this list could soon turn amber, and amber plus, which currently contains only France.

There had been reports of an amber watchlist being added to the already complex system but Number 10 on Monday evening said that would not be the case after Boris Johnson said he wanted the approach to be "as simple and as user-friendly for people as possible".

Ms Keegan appeared to suggest the system would soon be simplified when speaking to ITV News, saying "every step of the way in future it will get easier".

She also urged people to get their Covid-19 vaccine so the government can open up international travel even further.

She said: "We're making progress, we're getting more freedoms - it is a bit painful because of course we are still worried about those who aren't yet vaccinated."

"We urge every young person watching to follow the example that everybody else has set, get double vaccinated and the sooner we can do that, the more that we can enjoy the freedoms that we all had to do without for the last 18 months," she added.

Prime Minister Johnson, when asked about the traffic light system during a visit to Stevenage on Monday, said: "I understand that people care very much about their holidays, people want to go abroad, I understand how much people plan, prepare, for the summer holidays."

"But we have also got to remember this is still a dangerous virus and we must try and stop variants coming in, must stop importing variants from abroad, so we have to have a balanced approach. "What I want to see is something that is as simple and as user-friendly for people as possible." He added: "People want, badly, to go on their summer holidays, we need to get the travel industry moving again, we need to get our city centres open again and so we want an approach that is as simple as we can possibly make it."