* Non-essential travel to be punished with 5,000 pound fine
* UK seeks to protect itself from COVID-19 infections abroad
* British travel stocks suffer from new measure (Adds Johnson comment on timing)
LONDON, March 23 (Reuters) - Travellers from England will face 5,000 pound ($6,900) fines in new legislation designed to deter non-essential trips and barricade the nation against imported COVID-19 infections.
The news was a disappointment to millions of people hoping for a summer holiday and sent travel stocks - including easyJet , British Airway-owner, Jet2 and TUI - down 2-4% in early trade on Tuesday.
Travel shares had also fallen on Monday.
Britain has had one of the worst COVID-19 tolls in the world, but deaths and infections are falling fast and a successful vaccination campaign is finally breathing confidence back into the population and the economy.
However, as a gradual easing of lockdown is set to begin from this weekend, the government is warning that people may have to sacrifice long-desired holidays abroad.
“We are seeing this third wave rising in some parts of Europe and we’re also seeing new variants and it is very important that we protect the progress that we’ve been able to make here in the UK,” Health Minister Matt Hancock told Sky News.
EXTENSION OF BAN?
Britain currently bans all foreign travel, except for work, education or health reasons. However, the government is to review that in April and possibly allow it from May 17.
“We’ll be able to say more we hope in a few days’ time. I certainly hope to be saying some more by April the 5th,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The new travel fines were included in legislation applying until the end of June in case the ban is not eased, Hancock said, adding to other comments by officials hinting at an extension of the prohibition.
Hancock said it was too early to say for sure.
The legislation, which went to parliament on Monday, would be voted on during Thursday’s session and, if approved as expected, come into force on March 29th, he said.
It applies only to England, but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may follow suit.
The European travel sector, which usually benefits from the millions of Britons who take trips abroad, are now bracing for a second lost summer.
Britain’s travel sector has lost more than 45,000 jobs and passenger numbers at the biggest airport, Heathrow, have fallen to their lowest since 1966 during the crisis.
The government’s review on April 12 is expected to introduce a risk-based traffic light system where countries are classified as “green” or “red”.
$1 = 0.7228 pounds Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by James Davey, Kate Holton and Marguerita Choy