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Ignore ministers and book your holiday, Ryanair boss says

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·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: A Ryanair Boeing 737 airplane takes off from the airport in Palma de Mallorca
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By Sarah Young and Laurence Frost

LONDON (Reuters) - British tourists should go ahead and book foreign holidays despite government warnings not to, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary said on Wednesday, as the low-cost carrier announced plans to run 80% of its peak summer capacity.

Vaccine rollouts will tame COVID-19 and reopen travel in time for beach holidays, O'Leary predicted during a news conference in which he also dismissed recent advice from UK ministers that foreign travel is likely to remain off-limits.

"I don't frankly pay too much attention to it," he said, citing the UK's "spectacularly successful vaccine programme" that aims to reach the entire adult population by late July.

Britain's lead on vaccinations has put UK tourists at the centre of the travel industry's summer hopes - dented by recent setbacks to immunisation campaigns in mainland Europe and a recent surge in infection rates.

O'Leary reported a surge in bookings from Britain and Germany, in comments that contrast with the gloom besetting the industry as it faces the risk of a second ruined peak season.

Airline and travel shares have fallen this week since the UK toughened its stance, but regained some ground on Wednesday with TUI up 7.8%, British Airways owner IAG 5.5% higher, easyJet up 3% and Ryanair 0.6%.

Ryanair staged separate online press briefings on its UK, Spain and Greek travel schedules in what O'Leary said was an attempt to encourage consumers to book.

The Irish budget airline announced 26 new destinations in Greece, Portugal and Spain and plans to operate a total of 2,000 weekly flights on 400 summer routes.

Vaccinations will have COVID-19 under control across the region by summer, O'Leary forecast, and Britain would then have no grounds to bar foreign trips.

"If you're fully vaccinated, I'd be very surprised if there was any legal basis for the UK government preventing people travelling on holidays to other European countries," he said.

"It is very difficult to persuade the UK population to sit at home, or holiday at home, when everybody's been vaccinated."

Britain has banned foreign travel until at least May 17, except for essential work, education or health reasons. Consumers should "hold off booking international travel", social care minister Helen Whately said earlier this week.

Ministers are due to review that position in April and "hope to be saying some more by April the 5th", Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Sarah Young in London and Laurence Frost in Paris; Additional reporting by Conor Humphries in Dublin, Clara-Leila Laudette in Madrid and Angeliki Koutantou in Athens; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Elaine Hardcastle)