COVID-19: Travellers frustrated at 'chaotic' government U-turn over France quarantine rules

·6-min read

Holidaymakers and industry groups have hit out at the late decision to make Britons quarantine for 10 days when they return from France.

From Monday, UK residents who have had two COVID jabs will no longer have to isolate after returning to England from amber list countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece.

France was meant to be part of the plan, but last night the government said it would be excluded while it looks at latest data on rising cases of the Beta variant in the country.

It means travellers must continue to quarantine for 10 days.

They must also have a coronavirus test on the second and eighth day - however the option of ending isolation early on day five with a separate test will remain.

The policy switch has angered Britons currently on holiday in France, while Easyjet's boss said it "pulls the rug" from people already on trips to the country, which is introducing its own enhanced testing regime for non-vaccinated people arriving from places where the Delta variant - not Beta - is considered especially prevalent.

People who have not been double jabbed will have to test negative for COVID-19 (via PCR or antigen) within 24 hours of arrival in France if they are travelling from the UK, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Greece.

Previously, people only had to test negative 72 hours - or in the UK's case, 48 hours - beforehand.

But in another change, fully jabbed people are now completely exempt from any constraints when entering France, so long as the vaccine they received is in use in the EU.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the UK government's approach and said it was committed to safely reopening international travel but that public health was the priority.

The quarantine requirement will also apply to Wales, but Scotland and Northern Ireland are yet to confirm what they intend to do. Each of the devolved administrations sets their own travel rules.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "We have been informed by the UK government of this late change regarding France after changes to our regulations for 19 July have been made.

"We will of course also want to safeguard against the importation of the Beta variant from France, so would expect anyone entering Wales from France to self-isolate and we will be working to align our regulations as soon as possible."

A Scottish government spokesperson said: "We are considering the best approach for Scotland as we look to adopt a four nation approach on international travel, where possible.

"Decisions on border health measures are a devolved matter and will be taken by ministers on the basis of evidence and with the safety of our communities as our primary concern."

Georgina Thomas, a fully-vaccinated nurse who has been visiting her parents in France, said she couldn't understand the UK government's decision.

"I'm frustrated with the inconsistent approach the government are taking, it doesn't all appear logical," the 32-year-old 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."

Graham McLeod, from Bolton, who has been staying on on France's Atlantic coast, said he would also have to isolate despite being double-jabbed.

The 63-year-old called it "inconsistent, irregular, unclear and frankly unworkable".

"We struggle to understand the sudden desire to introduce quarantine for returnees from France and cannot help feel this has far more to do with politics and much less to do with science," he added.

Travel industry body ABTA called it another setback for holiday firms that would "undoubtedly dent consumer confidence in overseas travel".

Easyjet boss Johan Lundgren said it "pulls the rug" from under people already in France, or those booked to go.

"The traffic light system is falling apart with the government making it up as they go along and causing confusion and uncertainty. It is not backed up by the science or transparent data," he said.

Labour's shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said UK border policy was "descending into further chaos" and accused ministers of "making up rules on the hoof".

"Once again the travel industry and the British people are paying the price," he said.

While current Beta - or South Africa - variant cases are not high enough to put France on the red list and enforce hotel quarantine, the government said the risk must be guarded against.

UK cases are massively dominated by the Delta variant and there are concerns some vaccines may be less effective against the Beta type.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that ministers were right to be worried about it.

"The Beta variant has remained a threat throughout. It is probably less infectious than the Delta variant that is spreading here in the UK at the moment. Where it has an advantage is that it is able to escape the immune response to a better extent," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"As the population here becomes more and more immune, the conditions are right then for the Beta variant to get an advantage, so I can understand the concern.

"Of the variants that are out there and are known about, that one has always been a threat to us. There is some good evidence from South Africa that it can evade the immune response generated by the AstraZeneca vaccine more efficiently."

The transport secretary added: "Travel will be different this year and whilst we are committed to continuing to open up international travel safely, our absolute priority is to protect public health here in the UK.

"We urge everyone thinking about going abroad this summer to check their terms and conditions as well as the travel restrictions abroad before they go."

And newly appointed health secretary Sajid Javid said the government had been clear they "will not hesitate to take rapid action" if necessary.

"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," Mr Javid said.

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UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries added: "As we ease restrictions and begin making our way back to a normal life, its more vital than ever that we listen to the data and act decisively when it changes.

"While vaccines are helping us turn the tables against this virus, we need to continue to proceed cautiously.

"That means maintaining our defences against new variants and protecting our hard won progress through the exceptional vaccination roll out."

The department also clarified that amber list exemptions for key workers including hauliers would remain in place.

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