Almost 60 percent of the UK would now be on the original “green list”, which allows travelers to return from abroad without incurring onerous self-isolation requirements, official Covid figures revealed today.
Health Department statistics showed that 218 out of 380 councils had a coronavirus infection rate of less than 20 cases per 100,000 in the week ended April 27, the latest available.
Last summer, ministers imposed arduous 14-day quarantine requirements on travelers from countries with infection rates above this level. The self-isolation period for all trips abroad has now been reduced to ten days, but trips abroad are still prohibited until at least May 17th.
Figures also show that nine out of ten local authorities saw their outbreaks decrease in April. Only Selby in North Yorkshire now has an infection rate above 100 per 100,000. For comparison: at the end of March, 23 authorities were above this level.
Experts said all the numbers looked “very optimistic”, suggesting the UK was “past the worst” of the pandemic and will never see Covid’s spiraling deaths and hospitalizations from the introduction of mammoth vaccination like the darkest days of January would. More than 50 million hits have now been distributed.
Boris Johnson’s extremely cautious roadmap for the lockdown is set to boost international traffic for people in England on May 17. Quarantine measures are initiated for “green” countries with both low infection rates and high vaccination rates.
However, the list is expected to be small – with few European destinations – as some ministers fear that travel could trigger a third wave and import dangerous variants.
Covid infection rates across the UK for the week ending April 27, the latest available. Health Department statistics showed that nine out of ten councils saw their cases decline in April. The highest rate of infection was in Selby, North Yorkshire
VACATION ABROAD “SHOULD BE DISCOVERED” BY AUGUST, MPS WARNING
Foreign holidays should be “discouraged” by August because of the risk of a third wave, MPs say.
The all-party group on coronavirus, a bipartisan group of MPs, said the travel ban should continue and only be reviewed every three months.
Its report said: “The UK government should ban all international vacation travel to prevent new varieties from being imported into the UK to reduce the risk of a third wave and further closures.
“This recommendation should be implemented immediately and reviewed quarterly.”
Boris Johnson’s extremely cautious roadmap for the lockdown is expected to resume the foreign vacation on May 17, when the restrictions on travel abroad are lifted.
Ministers will, however, put in place a traffic light system on journeys that will determine whether vacationers need to be quarantined when they return to the UK.
Few countries are expected to get on the “green” list, only Portugal in Europe, which would mean travelers would not have to be quarantined.
Many are likely to be made “orange”, requiring travelers to isolate for 10 days upon their return.
The Department of Health’s infection rates are calculated based on the number of people who tested positive in an area in the past seven days divided by the area’s population. There is then a number per 100,000 people that can be made comparable everywhere.
According to government statistics, almost a million Covid tests are done every day, but currently only a few thousand are taking the virus because the prevalence is so low.
Latest figures show the majority of local authorities have an infection rate below 20 per 100,000 and three in Scotland – Midlothian, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Shetland Islands – have not registered any Covid cases in the past seven days.
Denbighshire in North Wales had the lowest Covid infection rate at 1 per 100,000, a 97 percent decrease from 41.8 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.
Selby, on the flip side, had the highest infection rate in the country at 102.6 per 100,000, up 32 percent from the end of March.
However, experts say this shouldn’t be a cause for concern as high levels of vaccination should keep the disease at bay and that if measures are relaxed, it is inevitable that cases will increase. They added that it was good news that there was still no spike during the April downturn.
Selby was followed by Hyndburn, Lancashire (98.7 per 100,000), North Lincolnshire (78.4 per 100,000) and Mid Ulster (69.3 per 100,000).
Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: “All the headlines are looking very optimistic right now: case numbers, ONS infection survey results, hospitalization and deaths.
“I think we are over the worst as I think we won’t see as much pressure on hospitals or as many deaths in the future as we have seen in recent months.”
He added, however, “But I think we are still a long way from being able to say that it is over.
‘Most model makers predict another wave this year, even with high vaccination rates, and that doesn’t explain what the new variants could do.
“Even so, because of the vaccine, we should see less severe cases in terms of number of cases, and also because of the higher immunity, the restrictions needed to fight the epidemic shouldn’t be as strict.”
Ministers tossed countries on the quarantine list with little warning last summer, leaving some Britons emptying their pockets to get home desperate and miss the deadline.
Paul Charles, a travel advisor close to government talks, said at the time that the bans were based on cases that hit more than 20 per 100,000 cases.
“While some other criteria are measured and monitored by Professor Chris Whitty and his team, as well as cabinet ministers like Secretary of Transportation Grant Shapps and Secretary of State Dominic Raab, such as a country’s health infrastructure and the track record of local medical authorities.” Now it’s the number of cases per 100,000 that matters, ”he wrote in a column for Travel Weekly.
“Anything above 20 per 100,000 for a period of seven days or more will likely result in this country being put on the quarantine list.”
The holidays are expected to resume on May 17th. Ministers are preparing to introduce a traffic light system that will indicate which countries require quarantine measures when holidaymakers return.
The government will release the list as early as next week – with millions of Britons pending on whether to book trips abroad.
Senior ministers are fighting over the size of the “green” list, with Secretary of Health Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty urging, among other things, to keep states with green ratings to an absolute minimum.
However, other cabinet ministers reportedly are calling for a relaxed approach, insisting that the UK outbreak is under control and that high vaccination rates should keep the government on track to loosen more curbs.
The government will calculate which countries should be added to the list based on, among other things, Covid infection rates, vaccinations and the growth or onset of infections.
They are meant to separate islands and countries, which could make vacationing in areas like the Azores and Tenerife more likely.
Portugal is expected to be one of the few places to be placed on the green list, along with Gibraltar, Malta and Israel.