Brits rush to book holidays amid plans to end lockdown

ASSOCIATED PRESS — Stir-crazy Britons rushed to book overseas vacations after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled plans to slowly ease a national lockdown, boosting optimism that travel restrictions will be removed in time for the summer holiday season.

TUI, the UK’s largest tour operator said bookings increased six-fold on Monday, the company’s busiest day in more than a month.

Discount airline easyJet said demand for flights more than tripled, and package holiday company Thomas Cook said traffic on its website increased 75 per cent.

International travel has nearly ground to a halt globally, so the increases are a sign of hope for the beleaguered industry.

“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,” easyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said in a statement.

“The Prime Minister’s address has provided a much-needed boost in confidence for so many of our customers in the UK.”

While the plans, which Johnson announced Monday, were welcomed by travel companies, many business leaders were disappointed at the slow pace of re-opening as some restrictions are expected to remain in place until June 21.

Others criticised the government for failing to guarantee current levels of support for businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office for National Statistics said Tuesday that the UK’s unemployment rate rose to 5.1 per cent in December, up 0.1 per cent from the previous month and 1.3. per cent from a year earlier.

The number of people on company payrolls has dropped by 726,000 since the pandemic began last February, with 58.5 per cent of the decline coming among people under 25.

But the figures don’t show the full impact of COVID-19 restrictions.

Some 1.9 million workers remain on furlough, a government program that covers 80% of the wages for people who aren’t working but remain on their employer’s payroll.

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