Britain today announced 100 more coronavirus deaths, in a record-low Saturday total that will cool fears about the latest lockdown-loosening measures.
Today’s figure is down by almost a quarter from last Saturday’s 130 deaths and marks the lowest Saturday total since March 21, two days before lockdown, when 56 people were killed.
It means the UK’s official Covid-19 death toll now stands at 43,514 — but more grim estimates by the Office for National Statistics put the tally in the region of 55,000 when suspected virus deaths are included.
A total of 890 more people were diagnosed with the viral disease in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of infected to 310,250.
But millions of cases have went missed because of a lack of widespread testing, and the ONS predicts around 3,000 people are still catching COVID every day in England alone.
Meanwhile, holidaymakers will be able to travel abroad for summer holidays next month under a ‘traffic light’ system that ranks countries based on their coronavirus risk, it emerged today.
Britons visiting nations that are ‘green’ or ‘amber’ – which includes most tourist hotspots in Europe, including Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and France – will not have to self-isolate when they return.
Only those flying to ‘red’ countries – such as the US, Brazil and India, where the virus is still rife – will have to quarantine indoors for 14 days after flying back.
NHS England revealed the latest victims were aged between 56 and 97 – with all but two victims suffering from underlying health conditions. It means the official number of deaths in England is 28,635.
No new deaths were announced in Scotland today for the second day running, with the death toll north of the border remaining at 2,482. In Wales, five new deaths take its total to 1,502, and Northern Ireland’s single fatality puts its tally at 549.
It comes as travel companies reported their biggest Saturday sales ever as bargain hunters rushed to book before a ‘traffic light system’ letting Britons go on holiday to the safest destinations without having to quarantine is unveiled on Wednesday and comes into force on July 6.
The partial dismantling of Priti Patel’s quarantine scheme means UK holidaymakers will be able to return home without having to self-isolate for 14 days. The Foreign Office will also lift its advice against ‘all but essential travel’ to low or medium-risk destinations, making it possible to obtain travel insurance.
Spain-holiday.com, the third biggest holiday rental site in Spain, said it had a record-breaking Saturday morning while TUI, Britain’s leading tour operator, reported a rise of 50 per cent in bookings compared to last week.
Tour operators were yesterday offering record discounts of up to 70 per cent for trips to France, Spain, Italy and Greece. The changes will also let foreign tourists visit the UK, giving a boost to the beleaguered hospitality sector.
Head of International Brands at Spain-holiday.com Peter Jarvis said: ‘We’re already seeing a huge increase in online interest in our holiday homes from the UK market, with pool properties being the most popular (up 104 per cent).
‘Vigilance is absolutely still needed but with sensible precautions on either end we are confident we will see a safe summer in the sun for Brits again this year.’
Under the traffic light system, drawn up by the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England and set to be in place by July 6, countries will be rated green, amber or red based on coronavirus infection levels, the reliability of official data and confidence in test and trace systems.
The automatic 14-day quarantine requirement will remain only for ‘red-rated’ countries such as the US and Brazil. Travel between ‘green’ and ‘amber’ countries will be quarantine-free, but passengers will have to fill in a ‘locator form’ to trace their movements.
‘Green’ countries include Austria, Croatia, Greece and Germany while ‘Amber’ countries include France, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland and Spain. It is hoped an agreement will be reached with Australia and New Zealand in the coming weeks to add them to the list of ‘green’ countries.
Managing Director of TUI UK & Ireland Andrew Flintham said: ‘We’re pleased the Government has finally confirmed that holidays overseas will be able to go ahead, and the full list of green and amber destinations will be released on Wednesday.
‘It’s a hugely positive step forward for the travel industry and I know our customers will be ecstatic that their summer is saved.
‘We’ve already seen bookings increase by 50 per cent this week, versus last, with holidays to Spain and Greece looking the most popular this summer. We know there were a lot of people hoping to travel and waiting for the certainty that would be possible.’
Spain-holiday.com, the third biggest holiday rental site in Spain, said it had a 42 per cent surge in bookings – 24 per cent higher than any previous Saturday.
Mr Jarvis said: ‘So we would advise anyone who fancies falling back in love with Spanish paella, beaches and sangria this year to move fast.’
Tour operators were yesterday offering deep discounts to lure travellers abroad. A family of four can save well over £500 on headline prices to Greece.
Emma Coulthurst, of the holiday comparison site Travelsupermarket, said: ‘There are prices as low as £140 per person for a week to Corfu in September and around £200 for a week in the Mediterranean in August. This is unheard of.
‘For the height of summer in August, there are definitely some of the best prices on offer which we’ve seen. With talk of high demand and prices for holidays in the UK, it seems it is currently cheaper to book a holiday abroad than at home.’
TUI, Britain’s leading tour operator, is offering as much as 68 per cent off-breaks to Europe and Trailfinders is offering reductions of a third on villas that would usually have been booked up months ago.
Chairman Mike Gooley said: ‘Bookings made now are benefiting from huge discounts.’ Downing Street warned it was ready to apply a ‘handbrake’ at short notice – meaning families could find the quarantine rules reinstated while they are abroad if there is an outbreak in the country they are visiting.
All travellers returning to the UK will have to provide contact details in case an outbreak is traced to their flight and they have to self-isolate. Failure to comply could result in a £1,000 fine.
And they will have to follow social-distancing measures on flights and ferries, including wearing face coverings. A detailed list of travel corridor destinations will be finalised next week but sources said it would include the most popular Mediterranean hotspots.
Portugal is in doubt following an outbreak in Lisbon that has led to the imposition of a curfew. Sweden will not be included and Turkey is also ‘doubtful’.
Despite being touted by the Government as a country which could benefit from the new arrangements in little over a week’s time, Greek tourism minister Haris Theoharis indicated it could be up to three weeks before his country was happy to open up unrestricted travel with the UK.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I feel the way things are now – and we always have to put this asterisk that the health situation has to continue to be on the same track as it is now – that we can certainly lift the restrictions in the next few days or, you know, two to three weeks.’ Long-haul flights will be possible provided that any transit country is also deemed safe.
The moves pave the way for foreign holidays this summer, with travel corridors set to be in place by July 6.