France rebukes Britain over 'excessive' travel curbs

UK is singling out France for special restrictions because of concerns over the Beta variant

Travellers arrive from France on the Eurostar train at St Pancras International railway station in London. AP
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A French minister has criticised the UK’s new travel curbs after tourists visiting France were excluded from Monday’s easing of holiday rules.

A last-minute rule change means France is the only country on Britain’s amber list where vaccinated UK tourists cannot travel without facing quarantine when they return.

Clement Beaune, a French minister for European affairs, described the new restrictions as excessive and questioned Britain’s reasoning.

“We don’t think that the UK’s decisions are totally based on scientific foundations,” he told French television.

The UK government’s move applies to travellers returning to England, but the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales are following suit.

Ministers justified their decision by raising concerns about the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

The strain accounts for about 10 per cent of coronavirus cases in France and is feared to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines against Covid-19.

But critics said France’s figures were distorted by a Beta cluster in the overseas territory of La Reunion, thousands of miles from Paris.

Mainland France is seeing a rise in infections caused by the Delta variant which is causing havoc in Britain’s economy.

England lifted most of its Covid restrictions on Monday but high infection rates mean businesses face continued disruption from people being told to isolate.

The easing of amber list restrictions is aimed at reviving the hard-hit travel sector after a year of curbs on foreign holidays.

The UK unveiled its traffic light system in May but until now, amber list quarantine has as good as excluded most of Europe’s popular holiday destinations.

Passenger numbers at London’s Heathrow Airport are still about 90 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels, latest figures show.

Airlines including British Airways and Ryanair fell on the stock market on Monday amid concerns that new variants would hinder the industry’s rebound.

Travellers returning from France will still face 10 days of quarantine, although they can end their isolation early if they test negative after five.

Eurostar trains that enter Britain through the Channel Tunnel will be subject to special arrangements under the new rules for France.

Passengers who boarded their train in Belgium or the Netherlands will not need to quarantine if they are merely transiting through France.

France changed its own travel rules by announcing that unvaccinated travellers must show a negative test within the previous 24 hours, rather than 48 or 72 hours as was previously the case.

Britain switched its position on another major holiday market, Spain’s Balearic Islands, last week.

The islands were moved from the green to the amber list amid concerns about a surge in cases among unvaccinated younger people.

Updated: July 19, 2021, 10:48 AM