BRITS could still be allowed to go on foreign holidays to Europe from as early as May 17, Matt Hancock declared today.
The health secretary said the PM's roadmap, which sets out mid-May as the earliest point when international travel might resume, "has not changed".
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And he said ministers "understand" people's desire to get away for a break in the sun "after the last year we've all had".
His remarks come after the Government announced an official holiday ban in law from Monday, with the risk of a £5,000 fine for escaping.
Under new Covid laws people across the country will be officially banned from leaving the country without a reasonable excuse.
The powers are due to stay in place until the end of June, sparking fears foreign hols might be off the table until later in the summer.
But Mr Hancock today insisted the rules around foreign trips could be relaxed earlier than that if minister deem it "safe" to do so.
Boris Johnson has set up a "Global Travel Taskforce" which will report back on April 12 with recommendations about how to restart international travel.
The health secretary said: "The roadmap sets out that the earliest date by which we will allow for international travel is May 17. That has not changed.
"These regulations come to an end as a whole at the end of June, but that doesn't change the timings for these questions on international travel."
Mr Hancock said it's "too early" to say when restrictions on travel will be dropped because of the "third wave rising in some parts of Europe".
He said: "We're also seeing new variants and it's very important we protect the progress we've been able to make here in the UK.
"And the question is whether we'll be able to release any of these measures over the summer.
"I entirely understand people's yearning to get away and have a summer holiday, and we're looking at that question right now.
"We're taking a cautious approach because we want any openings that we that we make to be irreversible. We'll only make steps we think are safe.
"But on the other hand we do understand how people want to want to be able to get away in the summer, especially after the last year that we've all had."
His remarks come after a health minister warned the whole of Europe could be placed on the UK's red list due to spiralling infections.
Lord Bethell said Britain’s neighbours could be put on the no-go list as he accused them of “rejecting” vaccination.
And the threat of the ban has caused airlines to axe summer flights, throwing Brit holidaymakes' plans into chaos.
Only Brits and Irish people can enter the country from a red list nation, and then they have to pay £1,750 for a 10-day hotel quarantine.
Just 10% of adults have received a first vaccine dose in the EU – compared to more than 50% in Britain.
Lord Bethell, said: "We are watching with enormous sadness the sight of our European neighbours rejecting the vaccine policy.
"They are not embracing the opportunity that a vaccine provides for driving down infection rates and protecting their populations.
"I don't know how that will play out and it's certainly above my pay grade to speculate.
"But we are all aware that the possibility lies that we will have to red list all of our European neighbours.
"But that would be done with huge regret, because we are a trading nation, we do work in partnership with out countries. We depend on other countries for essential supplies, not only medicines, but food and others.
"Although we could put in place a haulier programme that protected our trade routes, it would be an enormous diplomatic blow and one that we would do with huge regret.”
British Airways and EasyJet have now confirmed they will cut back on summer flights across Europe in July and August.
But Mr Hancock today slapped down his deputy and said "we don't have plans" to add the whole continent to the red list.
Anxious Tory MPs are worried that ministers will tear up plans to allow foreign holidays again from May 17.
With the EU facing a deadly third Covid wave thanks to their woeful vaccination programme, MPs fear the borders could stay up for months to come.
One backbencher warned: “If they don’t reopen international travel in May then there will be absolute carnage at airports and for the communities that rely on them.
“There is a significant lobby in this country who think air travel is evil and are out to use this pandemic to try to destroy it.
“But it would be devastating for the many airport workers."
Another Tory said airports have become “ghost towns” and are “screaming out” for a firm timeline to reopen.
If they do not get one, then Chancellor Rishi Sunak will come under massive pressure to stump up cash for an aviation sector bailout, they said.
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