Thursday briefing: Holidays get the green light

Hello, Warren Murray inviting you into the know.

Millions of Britons have been given the green light to travel to Europe’s holiday hotspots, avoiding quarantine on return from France and Spain where concerns have been raised about Covid variants. Ministers announced fully vaccinated holidaymakers returning from France would no longer need to quarantine, and ditched plans for a “watchlist” of amber countries such as Spain. The move is likely to partially revive the struggling tourism sector but will raise questions about whether the government is being complacent about the spread of the Beta variant.

The decision to abandon plans for a watchlist under pressure from mutinous cabinet ministers will also put UK tourists at risk of having their plans aborted without any notice, raising the spectre of a repeat of last summer’s chaotic travel corridors. Under-18s and those fully jabbed in the UK are now exempt from quarantine, as well as those who have been vaccinated in the EU and US. Covid vaccines will also be offered to all 16- and 17-year-olds without needing the consent of their parents, after government experts reversed their advice. Latest Covid developments as always at our live blog.

NHS slips in global ranking – The UK has fallen from first to fourth in the Commonwealth Fund’s latest analysis of the performance of healthcare systems in rich nations. Norway, the Netherlands and Australia now provide better care than the NHS, it found. The US had by far the worst-rated system despite spending the most on care. The analysis blamed the NHS’s slip down its league table on the delays patients face in accessing care and treatment, lack of investment in the service, and poverty. The UK was also ranked fourth out of 11 for access to care, administrative efficiency and equity, fifth for care processes, and ninth for health care outcomes, which measures how well patients recover after treatment. NHS England declined to comment. A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to making sure the NHS has everything it needs to continue providing excellent care to the public, as we tackle the backlogs that have built up.”

Cargo bikes outrun vans – Electric cargo bikes deliver about 60% faster than vans in city centres, according to a study. It found that bikes had a higher average speed and dropped off 10 parcels an hour, compared with six for vans.

The bikes also cut carbon emissions by 90% compared with diesel vans, and by a third compared with electric vans, the report said. Air pollution, which is still at illegal levels in many urban areas, was also significantly reduced.

‘Our collective responsibility’ – The Community Security Trust (CST) charity has said the Gaza conflict that broke out in May is linked to its highest recordings of hate incidents against British Jews. CST recorded a monthly record of 639 antisemitic incidents in May, accounting for 49% of all 1,308 such incidents recorded in the first half of 2021. “Some of the abuse and harassment targeting young people in particular was disgraceful,” said CST’s chief executive, Mark Gardner. “Looking ahead, CST will keep doing everything that we can to protect our Jewish communities, and to give them the security and comfort that they need.” Mark Hamilton from the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “It should not be necessary for UK Jewish citizens to demand that their security and peace is protected. It is our collective responsibility.”

Cat food deaths scare – Cats are dying in significant numbers from a mystery illness that investigators believe may be linked to widely sold cat food brands, prompting concern that not enough is being done to warn owners about a nationwide product recall. Pancytopenia is a condition of the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) said it was aware of at least 528 cases of which 63.5% have proved fatal. Certain batches of Sainsbury’s hypoallergenic dry cat foods, Applaws and AVA were recalled as a precaution by manufacturer Fold Hill Foods in mid-June.

The RVC and Food Standards Agency (FSA) are yet to confirm the cause of the spate of deaths, more than six weeks after initially raising the alarm. Both agencies have said they are looking into all possibilities, including those not associated with food. A spokesperson for Fold Hill said: “As stated by the FSA, there is no definitive evidence to confirm a link at this stage between the cat food products and feline pancytopenia.” Sainsbury’s said it was assisting with an investigation involving two of its hypoallergenic cat foods and offering full refunds, while Pets at Home said it had recalled AVA and Applaws products and was assisting investigators. Applaws said it was “heartbroken” at the suggestion that any food it sold could be linked and was helping with the inquiry.

‘Vital for disabled people’ – Disabled or elderly passengers who need assistance to board trains will be able to turn up and travel rather than book six hours ahead or the day before, under a scheme launched by South Western Railway. The “assisted boarding points” at all 189 stations on SWR, one of Britain’s biggest networks, are to include a QR code that customers scan to send details of their journey and the type of assistance they require, such as a wheelchair ramp or visual impairment support. SWR said the service would require only 10 minutes’ notice. Alan Benson, who sits on SWR’s accessibility panel and chairs Transport for All, tested the boarding point at his local station. He said: “Getting help on and off the train is vital for disabled people travelling, and this is the most common source of problems. Anything that makes this easier has to be welcomed.”

The Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya flew out of Tokyo on Wednesday to begin a life in exile after refusing to return home. Andrew Roth describes a growing threat to internal critics of the regime.

Protect your mental health, stand up for your friends and speak out against racism and homophobia. From the Euros to the Olympics, this season’s biggest stars have shown success is about much more than trophies.

British canoeist Liam Heath has won bronze in the men’s K1 200m final while other medal chances today include Matthew Walls in the cycling omnium, plus Jason Kenny and Jack Carlin in men’s sprint. On the track, Team GB’s women broke the national record in easing through to tomorrow’s final of the 4x100m relay. The men are also through but, surprisingly, the US team didn’t make it. Australia are through to the final of the women’s beach volleyball where they face the USA. It’s been another great day on the water for New Zealand whose star kayaker, Lisa Carrington, won her third gold of the Games in the K1 500m.

England suffered a dismal collapse against India on the first day of the first Test at Trent Bridge and now face an uphill battle to recover against a visiting side well led by Virat Kohli. England’s batting coach, Marcus Trescothick, admitted the summer schedule, in which several players have not played any first-class games since early June, did not help. Harry Kane is certain to miss Tottenham’s opening game of the season after remaining on holiday in the US for an extra day as he continues to play chicken with the club’s board over his transfer request. While Kane dreams of a move to Manchester City, England colleague Jack Grealish seems close to heading to the Emirates for £100m. And Chelsea hope £102m will tempt Inter Milan to part with Romelu Lukaku. Warren Gatland favours extra time if Saturday’s deciding Test against South Africa ends in stalemate after 80 minutes.

Asian stocks have been mixed as traders await more guidance on the US economic recovery. Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea have shown a fall in morning trading. The FTSE is trending towards opening flat to a few points higher. The pound is worth $1.389 and €1.173 at time of writing.

The Guardian front page features a beaming Sky Brown after winning Olympic bronze in skateboarding. The splash is “Millions get holiday boost as quarantine rules relaxed” and downpage our print edition has “Genetic secret to age of menopause discovered”.

Holiday joy is spread thickly over most of the fronts today – “Boost for summer getaways” says the Times while the Express says “We got there! At last, summer is saved”. The Mirror goes with “Summer holidays boost – French reconnection” while the i has “Traffic light changes open up holidays”. “Holidays to France back on” is how the Telegraph puts it.

Others lead with vaccine news. “Vacc to school” is how the Metro treats vaccination being extended to 16- and 17-year-olds. The Daily Mail looks further ahead – “Now all over-12s could be jabbed” – after Dr Van-Tam said it might happen. The money side of vaccination is discussed in the Financial Times’ splash: “WHO seeks halt on Covid boosters as poorer nations struggle for jabs”. It points out that Moderna and Pfizer have raised prices in their latest EU supply deals.

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