Almost 60 per cent of Britain would now be on the original ‘green list’ permitting travellers to return from abroad without facing burdensome self-isolation requirements, official Covid figures revealed today.
Department of Health statistics showed 218 of 380 councils had a coronavirus infection rate below 20 cases per 100,000 in the week to April 27, the latest available.
Last summer ministers slapped arduous 14-day quarantine requirements on travellers arriving from countries with infection rates above that level. The self-isolation period for all foreign travel has now been shortened to ten days but holidays abroad are still banned until at least May 17.
Figures also showed nine in ten local authorities saw their outbreaks shrink in April. Only Selby in North Yorkshire now has an infection rate above 100 per 100,000. For comparison, there were 23 authorities above that level at the end of March.
Experts said all figures were looking ‘very optimistic’, suggesting Britain was ‘over the worst’ of the pandemic and would never again see the spiralling Covid deaths and hospitalisations as in the darkest days of January because of the mammoth vaccination roll-out. More than 50million jabs have now been dished out.
Boris Johnson’s ultra-cautious roadmap out of lockdown is set to kick-start foreign travel for people in England on May 17, with quarantine measures dumped for ‘green’ countries with both low infection rates and high vaccination levels.
But the list is expected to be small – and include few European destinations – amid fears from some ministers that travel could spark a third wave and import dangerous variants.
Covid infection rates across the UK in the week to April 27, the latest available. Department of Health statistics showed nine in ten councils saw their cases fall throughout April. The highest infection rate was in Selby, North Yorkshire
HOLIDAYS ABROAD ‘SHOULD BE DISCOURAGED’ UNTIL AUGUST, MPS WARN
Holidays abroad ‘should be discouraged’ until August because of the threat of a third wave, MPs say.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, a cross-party group of MPs, said the travel ban should continue and only be reviewed every three months.
Their report states: ‘The UK Government should discourage all international leisure travel to prevent the importation of new variants into the UK, in order to reduce the risk of a third wave and further lockdowns.
‘This recommendation should be implemented immediately and reviewed on a quarterly basis.’
Boris Johnson’s ultra-cautious roadmap out of lockdown is set to re-start foreign holidays on May 17, when curbs on travelling abroad will be lifted.
But ministers will be setting out a traffic light system for journeys, which will determine whether holidaymakers will have to quarantine on their return to the UK.
Few countries are expected to make the ‘green’ list, with just Portugal in Europe, which would mean travellers would not have to quarantine.
Many are likely to be made ‘orange’, requiring travellers to isolate for 10 days upon return.
Department of Health infection rates are calculated based on the number of people that have tested positive in an area over the past seven days, divided by that area’s population. It then gives a figure per 100,000 people to make everywhere comparable.
There are almost a million Covid tests being carried out daily according to the Government’s statistics but only a few thousand are currently picking up the virus because prevalence is so low.
Latest figures show that the majority of local councils now have an infection rate below 20 per 100,000, and three in Scotland – Midlothian, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Shetland Islands – have recorded no Covid cases in the past seven days.
Denbighshire, in north Wales, had the lowest Covid infection rate at 1 per 100,000, a 97 per cent drop from the 41.8 recorded at the end of March.
Monmouthshire, also in Wales, had the second lowest rate at 3.2 per 100,000, followed by the Scottish borders at 3.5 per 100,000.
On the other hand, Selby had the highest infection rate in the country at 102.6 per 100,000, which was up by 32 per cent compared to the end of March.
But experts say this should not be a cause for concern because high levels of vaccination should keep the disease at bay, and that it is inevitable cases will rise as measures are eased. They added it was good news that there hasn’t been a spike yet during April’s relaxation.
Selby was followed by Hyndburn, Lancashire (98.7 per 100,000), North Lincolnshire (78.4 per 100,00) and Mid Ulster (69.3 per 100,000).
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘All the headline stats are looking very optimistic at present: case numbers, results of the ONS infection survey, hospitalisation and deaths.
‘I do believe we are over the worst in that I think we will not see as much pressure on hospitals or as many deaths in future as we have seen in the past few months.’
However, he added: ‘But I think we are still a long way from being able to say it is over.
‘Most modellers are predicting a further wave this year even with high vaccination rates and that doesn’t account for what the new variants may do.
‘Nevertheless, because of the vaccine we should see fewer severe cases in relation to the number of cases and also because of higher immunity the restrictions needed to control the epidemic shouldn’t need to be as tough.’
Ministers threw countries on the quarantine list with little warning last summer, leaving some Britons emptying their pockets in a desperate attempt to get home to beat the deadline.
Paul Charles, a travel consultant close to Government talks, said at the time the bans were based on cases hitting more than 20 per 100,000.
‘While some other criteria are measured and monitored by Professor Chris Whitty and his team, and cabinet ministers including Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, such as health infrastructure in a country and the track record of the medical authorities on the ground, it is the case number per 100,000 that matters now,’ he wrote in a column for Travel Weekly.
‘Anything above 20 per 100,000 for a period of seven days or more is likely to lead to that country being added to the quarantine list.’
Holidays are set to resume on May 17, with ministers preparing to unveil a ‘traffic-light’ system showing which countries will require quarantine measures when holidaymakers return.
The Government is set to unveil the list as early as next week – as millions of Britons are left in limbo on whether to book trips abroad.
Senior ministers are battling over the size of the ‘green’ list, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock and chief medical officer Chris Whitty among those pushing to keep green-rated states to an absolute minimum.
But other cabinet ministers are reportedly urging a looser approach, insisting the outbreak is under control in the UK and that high vaccination rates should keep the Government on the right track to relaxing more curbs.
The Government will calculate which countries to place on the lists based on Covid infection rates, vaccinations, and the growth or slump in infections among other factors.
They are set to separate islands and countries, which could make holidays to areas like the Azores and Tenerife more likely.
Portugal is expected to be one of the few places that is put on the green list, alongside Gibraltar, Malta, and Israel.