France to restrict travel from UK over Omicron Covid surge

Policy is 'tightening the net' to slow down arrival of new variant cases

Passengers prepare to fly out of Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. Reuters

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France will impose “drastically tighter” travel restrictions on passengers from the UK amid fears of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The government said travellers from Britain must have a compelling reason for their trip which could not be tourism or business. French nationals and their families are exempt.

Travellers who are permitted to enter will need to show proof of a negative Covid test and people returning to France from the UK will need to self-isolate for a week.

“We will put in place a system of controls drastically tighter than the one we have already,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told BFM television. He said a statement from Prime Minister Jean Castex would be issued later on Thursday.

“We will reduce the validity of the test to come to France from 48 hours to 24 hours,” he said.

“We will limit the reasons for coming to France from the UK, it will be limited to French nationals and residents and their families. Tourism or business trips for people who do not have French or European nationality or are residents will be limited.

“People [coming back] will have to register on an app and will have to self-isolate in a place of their choosing for seven days – controlled by the security forces – but this can be shortened to 48 hours if a negative test is carried out in France.”

Mr Attal said the policy was aimed at “tightening the net” to slow down the arrival of Omicron cases in France and give time for the French vaccination booster campaign to make more ground.

It came as EU leaders underlined the importance that restrictions "are based on objective criteria and do not "disproportionally hamper free movement" between member states or into the bloc.

In post European Council conclusions the leaders also reiterated the urgency of rolling out booster campaigns and the need to tackle vaccine hesitancy, including by addressing disinformation.

Italy, Greece and Portugal recently announced that arrivals - regardless of their vaccination status - must provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test.

Brittany Ferries, a firm which sails from southern England to ports in northern France, said the tightened restrictions would be a 'hammer blow' to the travel industry in the run up to Christmas. Photo: PA

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said every adult in England will be offered a booster vaccine by the end of the year.

“Our strategy is to delay as much as we can the development of Omicron in our country and take advantage to push ahead with the booster drive,” Mr Attal said.

Omicron is believed to spread much faster than the Delta variant.

The new rules are expected to come into effect at the weekend.

Britain's Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he secured an exemption for hauliers in talks with his French counterpart Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

Health minister Gillian Keegan said it was "unfortunate" that people would have to cancel Christmas plans due to the spread of Omicron, but stopped short of criticising the French government's move.

“Well, actually, my first thought is ‘I’m glad that I cancelled my trip to France’, because that’s where I was supposed to go for Christmas," she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But, of course, every government is dealing with Omicron, every government has to make their decisions and has their response to it, you know. It is obviously going to alter people’s plans, which is very unfortunate.”

Brittany Ferries, a firm which sails to northern France from the southern English ports of Plymouth, Poole and Portsmouth, hit out at the restrictions.

“These new measures are a hammer blow to our Christmas season," a spokesman for the company said.

“In the context of an Omicron variant that is passing through the French population as it is in the UK, further border controls seem as unnecessary as they are unwelcome.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of the PC Agency, a travel public relations and brand consultancy, criticised the French government’s decision to restrict movement between the two nations.

“Blanket country measures are a damaging backwards step and never work,” he said.

“Omicron is already in France and other EU countries. Why should the millions boosted be treated the same way as those unvaccinated, and prevented from entry?”

The measures were announced after the UK declared a record-breaking daily total of infections on Wednesday, when 78,610 cases were detected.

The restrictions come at a sensitive time in UK-France relations and amid a continuing row between the two governments on how to address the migrant crisis in the Channel.

Trust between London and Paris has also been low since the UK left the EU. Brexit has led to issues including quarrels about mutual fishing rights.

French President Emmanuel Macron last week accused UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government of failing to keep its word on Brexit, saying “the problem with the British government is that it does not do what it says".

Updated: December 16th 2021, 3:40 PM