A government minister has admitted the country could end up in another full lockdown if a Covid-19 variant spreads in Britain.

The government is poised to announce a relaxation of international travel rules later today but is expected to move cautiously.

One of the key decisions will be whether to continue to insist British tourists take PCR tests before entering the UK.

Many travellers and industry bosses would prefer a switch to cheaper and quicker lateral flow tests, but that would reduce the ability to spot variants.

Environment secretary George Eustice said the consequences of not getting travel policy correct could be huge.

He told Sky News: ‘Arguably the biggest threat to the travel industry is that we do get another variant that manages to get around the vaccine, that the vaccine can’t deal with, then we’re into another full lockdown – and that’s not what we want.

‘That’s why we’ve taken this cautiously, step by step, because we want each step we take to be irreversible.’

Under current rules, people arriving from green list countries must take a Covid test shortly before their return and submit a PCR test after two days back in the UK.

Asked whether lateral flows could replace lab-tested PCR swabs, he said: ‘I haven’t heard that because I’m not on that particular sub-committee that deals with this.

‘They will want to consider all the evidence before taking a final decision.

‘The rationale for the PCR test is that you can do genome sequencing of variants and you can, therefore, detect possible variants of concern.

‘The difficulty with the lateral flow test, although it is cheaper and simpler to do, it is not able to pick up those variants.

‘So, that’s the rationale and that’s been the rationale so far for making sure we keep some of that PCR testing in place.’

The biggest change will be the scrapping of the traffic light system, which has infuriated many as countries move between the categories at short notice

Ministers are expected to replace it with a simplified ‘go’ and ‘no go’ system, a list of places Brits can travel to and a list they can’t.

The number of countries on the new red list will reportedly be halved but hotel quarantine will remain a strict requirement for people arriving from them.

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