EasyJet has urged the UK government to declare most of Europe “green” when it publishes its list of permitted destinations for the summer, citing research that suggests travel would have a very limited impact on the number of people admitted to hospital with Covid in the UK.

The airline said analysis showed mass travel to popular destinations such as Spain, Portugal and Greece would not affect the UK’s Covid case rate, and would risk a small number of hospital admissions.

The government is expected to confirm where and when leisure travel will be allowed in the coming weeks, with hopes that holidays could restart from 17 May.

Under the indicative framework set out this month for a traffic light system to categorise all destinations, only countries with high vaccination rates, low case numbers and reliable data will be on the green list – allowing holidaymakers to avoid quarantine on return.

EasyJet said research commissioned from epidemiologists at Yale University in the US showed unrestricted travel from much of Europe would increase hospital admissions by 4%, or six cases in the UK on the current daily average.

Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of easyJet, 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.”

He urged the government to publish the countries and parameters for each tier of the traffic-light categorisation as soon as possible, “so consumers get some much-needed clarity on where they can travel”.

He added: “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.”

Lundgren told an Aviation Club webinar: “We are not looking to reopen travel at any cost – we need to protect the NHS and vaccination programme.”

But, he added, the UK was not pursuing a “zero-Covid policy” and it was not viable to seek to keep all cases out – the travel framework could not be zero risk.

While countries such as New Zealand and Australia had in effect shut their borders, he added, “more truck drivers cross the border at Dover alone in five days than the number of people Australia allows in a month”.

He said: “Either we need to learn how to operate with Covid or we need to accept that travel will be highly restricted for many years, with the consequent impact on the UK aviation industry.”

Lundgren said the Yale analysis demonstrated it was safe for much of Europe to be categorised as green, and called on the government to set out any evidence to justify any other classification.

The airline said the Yale research, by Dr Jeffrey Townsend and Dr Alison Galvani, had not yet been submitted for publication or peer reviewed, but would be shortly.