France was added to the UK’s quarantine list yesterday in a savage blow to tens of thousands of British holidaymakers.
After a week of speculation ministers acted on a worsening coronavirus situation across the Channel, ministers ordered travellers returning from the popular destination to isolate for 14 days.
The quarantine is set to come in at 4am tomorrow – and with an estimated British 500,000 holidaymakers in France, a weekend of chaos looms.
There are concerns that the sudden change in rules could spark a rush for ferries at Calais and Dunkirk – and a scramble for seats on the Eurostar.
John Keefe, the public affairs director at Channel Tunnel operator Getlink, warned that there is ‘very limited’ capacity on services throughout this month.
France recorded 2,669 new cases of coronavirus yesterday, up from 2,524 on Wednesday. It is a record figure for the nation since it came out of lockdown.
The review of the rules saw the Netherlands, Monaco and Malta added to the quarantine list – and Portugal remains on it, along with Spain.
The Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba in the Caribbean have also lost their places.
The move came after Boris Johnson said the UK would be ‘ruthless’ when it came to travel quarantine even with its ‘closest and dearest friends’.
‘We have got to be absolutely ruthless about this, even with our closest and dearest friends and partners. I think everybody understands that,’ Mr Johnson told reporters as he visited Northern Ireland yesterday.
‘We will be looking at the data a bit later on this afternoon – looking exactly where France and other countries are getting to.
‘We can’t be remotely complacent about our own situation. Everybody understands that in a pandemic you don’t allow our population to be reinfected or the disease to come back in.
‘That is why the quarantine measures are very important and we have to apply them in very strict way.’
Speculation has been mounting about quarantine exemptions being scrapped as infections rise across much of Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of Britons are either on holiday in France or planning to go there, but yesterday it recorded more than 2,500 cases – a record since lockdown was eased.
The country appears to be perilously close to the yardstick of 20 cases per 100,000 population in a seven-day period.
But ministers are believed to be prepared to hold off on restrictions when changes are announced, with the situation kept under close observation.
The quarantine list already includes Spain and Portugal. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not believed to have signed off on the adjustments yet.
Travellers are expected to be given around 30 hours notice of any changes coming into force, so they can make new arrangements if required.
The Netherlands (23.1 per 100,000), Gibraltar (35.6), Monaco (38.2), Malta (46.7), San Marino (53.0), the Faroe Islands (198.5), Turks and Caicos (278.9) and Aruba (547.9) all have higher rates of new cases per 100,000 than France.
Those on the list with a slightly lower rate than France are Denmark (15.3 per 100,000), Iceland (14.7), the Czech Republic (14.0), Switzerland (13.3) and Poland (12.7).
All the above have now overtaken Portugal’s rate of 12.4 new cases per 100,000 people in the last seven days, but despite this, Portugal remains on the list of countries from which all arrivals to the UK, including those returning from holiday, must quarantine for two weeks.
Downing Street reminded potential holidaymakers this week that ‘there is no risk free way of travelling overseas’ with Boris Johnson adding that he ‘would not hesitate’ to bring in travel restrictions for other countries.
The latest data on coronavirus cases on foreign soil is being analysed by the Government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre (JCB), which reports to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Britons in France and other countries could be forced to make a dash home or risk being forced to quarantine on their return to the UK, should the government decide to remove more countries from the list.
On Tuesday, the UK updated its travel ‘green list’, but did not take Portugal off the quarantine list, in a blow to the country’s economy that benefits greatly from tourism from the UK.
The UK Government was warned that cases in Portugal had not fallen fast enough to be able to safely add the country to the ‘green list’.
On Monday, France reported the first significant rise in the number of coronavirus patients in hospital since the lockdown was lifted, although it fell again on Tuesday before rising two days on the bounce.
Earlier this week France’s prime minister told his citizens to ‘pull themselves together’ amid a fresh surge in coronavirus cases.
Jean Castex said the public was becoming careless and raised the spectre of a second lockdown after a rise of more than 10,000 cases in the last week.
‘If we don’t act collectively, we expose ourselves to the heightened risk that the rebound in the epidemic becomes hard to control,’ Castex said on a visit to an intensive care ward in the South of France.
Some parts of France have tightened their mask rules despite the summer heatwave, with police now set to ramp up checks on face coverings – while neighbouring Belgium yesterday made masks compulsory in all public spaces including outdoors.
The bombshell decision to reimpose quarantine on France is a ‘devastating blow’ to Britain’s crippled travel sector, industry leaders said last night.
Airlines and tour operators have suffered colossal losses during the pandemic as a result of plummeting passenger numbers and sweeping global travel restrictions.
A long-awaited announcement on travel corridors brought some respite in mid-July – but a steady yet sharp rise in coronavirus cases on the continent has brought hopes of a revived travel season to a sudden end.
Travel bosses last night said the decision to reimpose quarantine on France – weeks after Spain, Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas were also kicked off the ‘safe’ country list – effectively signals the death knell for foreign holidays for the rest of the year.
It also spells misery for millions of Britons with ruined trips, who now face a battle to claim refunds from airlines which may refuse to give them their money back.
Most holidaymakers are unlikely to be covered on travel insurance as the majority of policies bought after March 10 carry no cover for Covid 19-related cancellations.
Travel bosses last night criticised the Government’s inaction on airport testing – seen by many as a viable alternative to blanket quarantine measures – and blasted ministers’ ‘chaotic approach’ for throwing the industry into chaos and uncertainty.
One senior industry figure told the Daily Mail: ‘It has been chaos at every turn. The latest announcement on France is a watershed moment and a dark day for our industry. We are in uncharted waters. It is hard to see where we go from this.’
Gloria Guevara, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said the ‘worst fears’of the industry were coming true, and estimated three million UK jobs could be lost due to the ongoing uncertainty.
Tim Alderslade of trade body Airlines UK added: ‘It’s another devastating blow to the travel industry already reeling from the worst crisis in its history.
‘Having the political will to move to a sub-national approach to quarantine, in addition to a testing regime for arriving passengers so that those testing negative can avoid having to self-isolate – which other countries like Germany have already implemented – is urgently needed.’
He said this would ‘provide carriers and customers with additional certainty around the ability to operate this autumn and winter’.
Karen Dee of the Airport Operators Association said: ‘Our airports are facing pressures that were unimaginable six months ago and it is essential that the Government work with the industry to introduce regional travel corridors to low-risk areas and agree a package of financial measures that support our airports who have already lost over £2billion since the start of the pandemic.
‘We have consistently called for support including relief from business rates and an extension to employment support beyond October and it is long overdue that the Government provides the same level of support to aviation that it has provided to other sectors.’
Rory Boland of consumer group Which? said: ‘It’s understandable that the Government wants to restrict travel to these countries at this time, but the burden of this decision disproportionally falls on holidaymakers – thousands of whom are likely to be left significantly out of pocket because their airline will refuse to refund them.
‘Unlike tour operators, airlines now routinely ignore Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel warnings and refuse refunds because, they argue, the flight is still operating. Some major airlines, like Ryanair, won’t even allow customers to rebook without charging a hefty fee.
‘The Government wants us to act responsibly and not travel to countries with an FCO warning, but it needs to make it clear to airlines that they too need to act responsibly and not ignore government travel advice in an effort to pocket customer cash.’