Much of Europe should be declared ‘green’ for travel while still protecting the NHS, according to scientific research commissioned by easyJet.
The study, conducted as the government is preparing to announce in the coming days where countries are placed in its traffic light framework for travel, claims to be one of the first into the quarantine and testing regimes needed for international travel.
The research by epidemiologists at the Yale School of Public Health models the relationship between the characteristics of the disease and effectiveness of quarantine and testing as well as incorporating vaccination levels to assess the impact of travel and quarantines on hospitalisation rates.
The analysis shows that as of April 12 the impact of travel on hospitalisation cases was minimal.
This means that travel from much of Europe would only increase hospitalisations in the UK by less than 4%.
The budget carrier believes that a green country should be one where unrestricted travel does not pose a risk to the NHS or the success of the vaccination programme.
On this basis easyJet believes that much of Europe should be classed as green on the government’s framework for restarting international travel from May 17, including Greece, Portugal and Spain.
The effect of travel to Europe on hospitalisation will be minimal – with only six additional hospitalisations in the UK per day with a current daily average of 145, the study claims.
For example, Spain should be green as:
- Travel to and from Spain will not increase Covid rates in the UK and it is not currently on the UK red list and there is low prevalence of variants of concern
- If Spain was green only an additional four people a week would be hospitalised with Covid based on data from April 12 and passenger numbers from 2019 and this is likely to further improve as vaccination programmes progress.
The study shows that antigen testing on entry and exit to quarantine to be as effective as a single PCR test in preventing further transmission.
The report says that “switching to less-sensitive but inexpensive and logistically flexible rapid antigen tests yields results nearly identical to those determined using RT-PCR testing on exit”.
The research also suggests that where quarantine may be necessary – to protect against variants of concern as an example – it does not need to be for as long as the government has set out for the amber tier.
Dr Jeffrey Townsend, Yale faculty member and leading epidemiologist who conducted the research, said: “Travel quarantines have been a cornerstone of efforts to prevent infectious disease prevention since the fourteenth century.
“We’ve determined that appropriate, shorter quarantines and judicious testing can facilitate travel, in cases where they are needed to prevent unsafe levels of transmission.”
The airline’s chief executive Johan Lundgren said: “We are absolutely committed to a safe restart and are confident this can happen while protecting both the health system and the success of the vaccine programme.
“We can show through this research that as of 12 April the UK government should be able to place much of Europe in the low-risk green tier because travel from several countries would not affect the UK case rate but most importantly it would have very little impact on hospitalisations in the UK.
“This is because vaccination is a game-changer – the success of the UK vaccine roll out has broken the link between cases and hospitalisation and by May and June we expect the situation to progressively improve because vaccination rates.
“The government urgently needs to publish both the parameters for each tier and the country list so consumers get some much-needed clarity on where they can travel. And in the meantime, it must do all possible to drive down the cost of testing while reviewing the need for these restrictions.
“As the rest of the economy emerges from this lockdown with some precautions in place, there is no reason why the same is not possible for travel.”