UK Covid live: travel firms report surge in demand for foreign holidays after lockdown easing plan published

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More than a third of claims made since universal credit was intro.....ewSparrow.

More than third of all universal credit claims made since pandemic started, DWP figures show

More than a third of claims made since universal credit was introduced have been made during the coronavirus pandemic, PA Media is reporting. PA says:

There were 4.5m claims for the benefit between 13 March 13 2020 and 14 January this year, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

This represents 39% of the 11.4m claims made since universal credit was introduced in April 2013.

The latest quarterly figures take the total number of people on UC to 6m as of January 14 - a 98% rise from March 12 2020.

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Michael Gove to lead government review of 'vaccine passports', PM says

Asked about vaccine passports, Johnson says this is a difficult issue. There are deep and complex issues to explore, he says, including ethical issues.

He says the government cannot be discriminatory. And there may be medical reasons why people cannot get vaccinated, which woiuld mean they cannot get “vaccine passports”.

But he says there is time for his review to consider all the issues.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, will lead it.

Johnson says he knows libertarians would object. But other people are pushing for these measures, he says.

He says he thinks they will be used for international travel.

Johnson says he is 'hopeful' England can fully open up after 21 June

Sky News is broadcasting an interview with Boris Johnson, who is visiting a school.

Q: Your roadmap envisages quite a rapid jump, from semi-lockdown to thousands of people being allowed at events just five weeks later. Are you going to fast?

Johnson says some people say the government is going too fast, and some thing it is going too slow. He says he thinks he is being prudent.

But he thinks the country will be able to open up from 21 June in a way that people did not expect.

Q: The deputy chief medical officer in Wales has expressed doubts about that deadline. How confident are you it can be met?

Johnson says he is “hopeful”. He says science has provided a shield for the population.

In interviews this morning, when asked when people in England would be able to hug friends and family, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he hoped that would be possible from 17 May.

Asked to explain the timing, he said:

The reason for that timing is, by then, all of the most vulnerable groups will have been able to have two jabs.

We know from the data that was published yesterday that the first jab is very effective in helping to protect you against catching Covid, or hospitalisation, or, of course, dying from it.

But the second jab adds to that protection, adds further. But we do want to be cautious until the most vulnerable groups have been able to have both of those doses.

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Welsh health chief expresses concern at England's lockdown easing plan

The deputy chief medical officer for Wales, Chris Jones, has expressed concern and scepticism over the UK government’s 21 June target to lift all limits on socialising in England.

Asked on BBC Radio Wales about the excitement in England the announcement of the date had caused, Jones said:

One is very concerned. The messaging to the public has always been very important here. To send the message that everything is going to be back to normal in a few months’ time is a message with some risk. This pandemic could easily go out of control again. This is a critical time.

There is a real risk of a third wave if restrictions are lifted too quickly and too early. There’s no doubt about that. We still have a vulnerable population. We’ve only had time to vaccinate the most at risk.

He said he would be “very surprised” if all limits on socialising could be lifted in Wales by 21 June. He went on:

I think we all need some hope but we’re not in that position yet.

It is absolutely impossible in my view to say at any given date in several months time that this will be the situation. We have to take things as we find them, step by step. It’s got to be an incremental process. We cannot anticipate several months ahead.

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Travel firms report surge in demand for foreign holidays

More travel companies have followed easyJet (see 9.44am) in reporting a surge in demand for foreign holidays, PA Media reports. PA says:

Tui, the UK’s largest tour operator, recorded a six-fold increase in bookings, making Monday its busiest day in more than a month.

The hotspots of Greece, Spain and Turkey from July onwards are the most in-demand locations.

Managing director Andrew Flintham said the government can work with the travel industry to develop a “risk-based framework” that will give holidaymakers “the opportunity to travel abroad this summer”.

He added that there is “huge demand to travel” and “people can look forward to a well-deserved break away after what has been a very difficult year for many”.

Online travel firm Thomas Cook said traffic to its website was up 75% on Monday as people rushed to book holidays for this summer and 2022.

Chief executive Alan French described the announcement as “good news for those of us desperate to get away on holiday”.

Wales has effectively stopped recording excess deaths, says ONS

Wales had effectively stopped recording excess deaths by early February, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. But in the week ending Friday 12 February deaths in all regions of England were still well above the five-year average for this time of year, and overall deaths in England and Wales were running at 28.8%.

Of the 15,354 deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 12 February, 37.1% involved Covid (in that it was mentioned on the death certificate).

This chart illustrates the trend with excess deaths.

Excess deaths in England and Wales
Excess deaths in England and Wales. Photograph: ONS

And here are the regional figures.

Excess deaths - regional figures
Excess deaths - regional figures. Photograph: ONS

Although the latest weekly deaths figure for Wales is above the five-year average, the ONS says it is “within the range of 2015 to 2019 deaths for week 6” (ie, for this time of the year).

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Dr Mike Tildesley, reader in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at the University of Warwick and member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M - effectively a subcommittee Sage), told the Today programme this morning he was worried that Covid could persist in poorer communities. Asked if it could remain a “disease of the deprived”, he said:

This is a real concern actually for me and I know a number of other scientists have raised this, that we may end up in a situation where we have the ‘vaccine rich’, as it were, who are able to access the vaccine who have taken up the vaccine and are at much lower risk.

And there may be people in society who have not taken up the vaccine and potentially these individuals could be clustered in particular parts of the country, and there is increased risk there.

So I think it’s something that we do need to do more about to make sure that the vaccine is available to everyone to take up and so that we minimise the risk of the virus persisting in particular parts of the country, and causing much more harm to those communities.

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EasyJet says it experienced a surge in bookings after the PM said yesterday that foreign holidays might be permitted from 17 May. As PA Media reports, in the hours after the announcement, easyJet said bookings by UK customers for the summer season were more than four times higher compared with the same period during the previous week. The Luton-based firm’s holiday division saw an even larger rise, with demand up seven-fold.

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said:

We have consistently seen that there is pent-up demand for travel and this surge in bookings shows that this signal from the government that it plans to reopen travel has been what UK consumers have been waiting for.

The prime minister’s address has provided a much-needed boost in confidence for so many of our customers in the UK with demand for flights up 337% and holidays up 630% already compared to last week and beach destinations proving most popular for this summer.

EasyJet aircraft parked at Southend airport in November last year.
EasyJet aircraft parked at Southend airport in November last year.
Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

The UK unemployment rate rose to 5.1% in the final quarter of last year, according to figures out this morning. My colleague Graeme Wearden has the details, with reaction and analysis, on his business live blog.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has said that everyone needs to play their part in order to meet the targets set for easing lockdown in England with the aim to move to “personal responsibility” rather than having social distancing laws “that get in the way of normal life”, my colleague Sarah Marsh reports.

Public backs Johnson's plan for lockdown easing in England, polls suggest

Good morning. Snap polls aren’t a perfect way of measuring public opinion - they involve people being asked about events that have only just happened, many respondents will not have read beyond a headline, and no one will have had time to mull it over properly - but they are better than nothing, and, on Covid at least, certainly a more reliable guide than newspaper front pages. (Many newspapers suggest Britain is clamouring to end the lockdown, when in fact the survey evidence suggests the opposite is the case.)

And so there is good news for Boris Johnson this morning. There have been two snap polls about the roadmap for lifting lockdown in England he announced yesterday, and they both suggest that voters are in favour.

According to a YouGov poll, the number of people who think the PM has got “the balance about right” outnumbers the combined total of those who think he is relaxing the rules too slowly and those who think he is relaxing too fast (a bigger group).

Snap polling on PM’s lockdown easing plan
Snap polling on PM’s lockdown easing plan. Photograph: YouGov

This is from the YouGov write-up of the findings.

English people tend to think the path being set to a post-lockdown future is happening at about the right pace (46%). A quarter think such a timeline is too rapid (26%), while another 16% think it is too slow.

Most Conservative voters (54%), as well as 42% of Labour voters, agree with the pace the prime minister has set. Labour voters are more likely than their Tory counterparts to think that the plan is too quick (34% vs 18%), while Conservative voters are more likely to consider it too slow (20% vs 11%).

And Savanta ComRes has a snap poll suggesting a majority of voters are satisfied with the PM’s roadmap.

Polling on lockdown easing plan
Polling on lockdown easing plan. Photograph: Savanta ComRes

The poll also suggests 31% of voters think the plan is “about right”. There are more people who think it is either “cautious” (30%) or “very cautious” (15%), but respondents may have regarded these as good qualities. Only 19% said they regarded the plans as reckless.

Polling on lockdown easing plan
Polling on lockdown easing plan. Photograph: Savanta ComRes

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The ONS publishes its weekly death figures for England and Wales.

9.30am: The DWP publishes its quarterly universal credit figures.

10.45am: George Eustice, the environment secretary, speaks at the National Farmers Union conference. Sir Keir Starmer is speaking at the same event at 12.30pm, and Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, is on at 2pm.

11.30am: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

12pm: Downing Street holds its daily lobby briefing.

After 2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, makes a statement to the Scottish parliament about Scotland’s plan for lifting lockdown.

Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.

Here is our global coronavirus live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

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