Covid: Fully jabbed arrivals from France must still quarantine

By Becky Morton
BBC News

Fully jabbed travellers returning to England and Wales from France will still have to quarantine from Monday.

From 19 July, adults who have been double jabbed in the UK arriving from amber list countries will not need to isolate for 10 days.

But the government said the easing would not apply to France due to “persistent” cases of the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa.

There are concerns vaccines may not work as well against the Beta variant.

Some 3.4% of cases recorded in France in the past four weeks were the Beta variant, according to GISAID, a global open source database.

The more infectious Delta variant – first identified in India – accounts for almost all new cases in the UK.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We have always been clear that we will not hesitate to take rapid action at our borders to stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the gains made by our successful vaccination programme.

“With restrictions lifting on Monday across the country, we will do everything we can to ensure international travel is conducted as safely as possible, and protect our borders from the threat of variants.”

Travel firms have criticised the move, accusing the government of causing confusion.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry group Airlines UK, said: “These random rule changes make it almost impossible for travellers and industry to plan ahead, and can only further undermine consumer trust at the very peak of the summer season.”

The government announcement means that anyone who has been in France in the previous 10 days will need to quarantine on arrival to England in their own accommodation and will need a day two and day eight test, regardless of their vaccination status.

This includes any fully vaccinated individual who transits through France from either a green or another amber country.

But ministers indicated that Eurostar passengers on services travelling through France would not need to quarantine if their train did not stop in the country.

Existing amber list exemptions for key workers such as hauliers will remain in place.

Travellers from France will still have the option of shortening their quarantine period through the Test to Release scheme – if they pay for a test on day five and are negative.

For arrivals from other amber list countries, the requirement to quarantine is being scrapped for the fully vaccinated and under-18s from Monday in all parts of the UK.

Each UK nation sets its own travel rules.

A Scottish government spokesperson said ministers were “considering the best approach” for arrivals from France “as we look to adopt a four nation approach on international travel, where possible”.

Wales said it would be following the change set by England, while Northern Ireland is yet to announce its intention.

Travel trade body Abta said the changes will delay “any meaningful recovery for the industry”, adding that financial support needed to be given to the sector.

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of EasyJet, said the government was “making it up as they go along and causing confusion and uncertainty”.

“It is not backed up by the science or transparent data and this move pulls the rug out from under our customers who have already travelled to France or who are booked to travel there and so it is them I feel for,” he added.

Eurotunnel said the announcement from the government was “disappointing… so close to the school holidays and so soon after they had confirmed that travel to France was safe”.

Ferry operator DFDS said it was surprised by the change but it would continue to work with the government to “play our part in keeping the UK safe”.

Tory MP Henry Smith, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, said the announcement was “a real setback to international travel”.

“We all expected that the traffic light system would provide much-needed certainty yet our current approach has only delivered confusion, which continues to prevent any meaningful recovery for our aviation, travel and tourism sectors,” he said.

Labour said the move had created “complete chaos”.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “In effect the government has announced yet another category for travel and they’ve done it on a Friday evening… It is travellers and the travelling industry that is paying the price.”

‘It doesn’t appear logical’

Georgina Thomas, a nurse from Buckinghamshire, is one of those affected by the change.

The 32-year-old has been visiting her parents in the countryside between La Rochelle and Bordeaux for the last three weeks with her baby daughter.

“I’m frustrated with the inconsistent approach the government are taking, it doesn’t all appear logical,” she told the PA news agency.

“If a quarantine is necessary then so be it but I’m confident that my risk will be higher when I return to the UK.”

Ms Thomas, who is still on maternity leave, added: “It will be a long 10 days but we are the fortunate ones, I understand that, plenty will think we shouldn’t be travelling anyway.”

Debbie, from Essex, who did not wish to share her second name, runs a chalet with her family in France and said her business would take a financial hit because of the change in rules.

“Bookings were just starting to pick up and we’ve been helped by European guests but this affects our vaccinated UK guests,” she said.

“It seems to me that this is political game-playing… it’s like watching a tennis match and the people are the ball.”

Anne, a British citizen living in Paris who did not wish to give her second name, has not seen her family in 18 months, with her parents yet to meet their granddaughter, who was born in Paris last autumn.

The 31-year-old told the BBC she had booked their trip to London for late August on Friday morning – just hours before the announcement was made.

She also suggested most of the Beta variant cases were not found in mainland France.

“How can the government encourage non vaccinated people in the UK to stop wearing masks and start going clubbing, yet oblige fully vaccinated travellers from France to quarantine?,” Anne added.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Whilst we are committed to continuing to open up international travel safely, our absolute priority is to protect public health here in the UK.”

There had been reports the government was considering adding France to the red list for travel.

Only UK or Irish nationals or UK residents are allowed to travel from red list countries and they must then quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days, at a cost of £1,750 for one adult.

It comes just two days after the government announced popular holiday destinations Ibiza, Majorca, Menorca and Formentera would be moved to the amber list.

In a separate development, Bulgaria has announced a ban on UK travellers entering the country, amid rising cases.

From Monday, only Bulgarian nationals, long-term residents and their immediate family members will be eligible to enter from the UK.

Earlier, more than 50,000 daily coronavirus cases were reported in the UK for the first time since mid-January.

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