France today announced it will tighten restrictions for UK travellers due to fears over the Indian variant in a fresh blow for eager British holidaymakers.
Arrivals from Britain will have to self-isolate in a bid to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 mutation, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said following a cabinet meeting today.
The UK will join a list of 16 countries already on France’s mandatory quarantine list – such as Brazil, India, Argentina and Turkey – with tighter self-isolation and testing tules expected to be announced shortly.
Mr Attal said ‘France will set up compulsory isolation for people coming from the UK’ in a bid to stop the Indian variant from crossing the Channel, adding that details will be announced ‘in the coming hours.’
Ministers have yet to explain precisely what measures will be imposed in this ‘compulsory isolation,’ but it could mean a stay in a Government-approved hotel – similar to the British rule for those arriving from red list nations.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had raised the possibility of ‘slightly tougher’ restrictions for British tourists on Sunday.
He suggested the UK could be put in a health category of its own, somewhere in between the strictest measures that France is imposing on visitors from India and 15 other countries, and more relaxed requirements being readied for visitors from the EU and some other countries.
France today tightened restrictions for UK travellers due to fears over the Indian variant in a fresh blow for eager British holidaymakers
The latest update means British holidaymakers will soon be able to visit 20 European countries without having to quarantine upon arrival – despite 18 of those welcoming sun-seekers from the UK still being on the ‘amber list’
Without giving specifics, Mr Le Drian said there was potential for ‘health measures that are a bit stronger’ but Paris is watching the progress of the Indian variant before making final decisions.
‘We hope that the variant can be controlled in a country which experienced real failures during the pandemic,’ he said.
‘However, the arrival of the Indian variant and the increase of cases of Indian variant in the United Kingdom pose a problem and so we are vigilant about this (and) in contact with the British authorities,’ he added.
‘It won’t be the red treatment if we have to do it. It will be an intermediate treatment,’ the minister said.
‘But it is not excluded – this springs to mind because of British tourists – that we have health measures that are a bit stronger.’
The tougher restrictions come after Germany declared Britain and Northern Ireland a virus variant region last week and required anyone entering the country from the United Kingdom to quarantine for two weeks on arrival.
British arrivals in France are currently required to present a negative PCR test carried out less than 72 hours before departure and self-isolate for seven days. They are then asked to take another PCR test which must be negative for them to end the quarantine period.
It is unclear how the tightened restrictions will change these measures.
France is broadly following the EU’s template for welcoming tourists, which are in the process of being updated. A ‘traffic light system’ should be fleshed out soon for what the restrictions for each category will be.
Portugal is the only major tourist destination on Britain’s ‘green list’, meaning people can go without the need to quarantine
The first flights from Britain arrive at Malaga Airport on Monday after Spain lifted the travel restriction from the UK
Covid-19 cases in a selection of the ‘amber list’ European countries where Britons don’t have to quarantine upon arrival
A present the EU’s ‘white list’ only includes a small number of countries, including New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Thailand and Israel. The UK had looked likely to be added to the safe group, but decisions have been put off amid concerns over the Indian variant.
The latest blow for British holidaymakers comes as travel bosses today slammed Downing Street’s ‘utterly confusing’ advice on foreign holidays as they demanded the ‘green list’ is expanded to include the US and popular European destinations.
The CEOs of easyJet, British Airways, Ryanair, Jet2, Tui UK and others have written to the Prime Minister to share their frustration at ministers’ recent comments telling Britons travel is ‘dangerous’ and urging them to ‘stay in this country’ rather than holiday abroad.
They asked Boris Johnson to ‘bank the gains from the huge success of the vaccination programme and expand the green list’ to include the US, the Caribbean and other European hotspots, saying Britons are now being left behind their neighbours.
Austria bans UK tourist visits over India variant
Austria is banning direct flights and tourist visits from Britain because of the prevalence there of a highly infections coronavirus variant first found in India, the health ministry said today.
Britain was added overnight to Austria’s list of ‘virus variant states’, joining Brazil, India and South Africa, from which arrivals are only allowed in a limited number of cases, the ministry said in a statement.
‘Essentially, only Austrian citizens and people who are resident or habitually stay in Austria may enter the country,’ it said, adding that entry would also be allowed on humanitarian grounds or for visits in the national interest.
While the immigration rules take effect today, the ban on direct flights will go into force on June 1, it added. The statement referred to the World Health Organization and Public Health England having classified the B.1.617.2 variant first found in India as a ‘variant of concern’.
Coronavirus infections in Britain have been rising but the overall incidence is still low, and the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 fell last week to its lowest since September – but clusters of the variant are growing.
Austria’s move follows a similar step by Germany, which said on Friday it was declaring Britain a virus variant region. Austria has had a small number of cases of the Indian variant and overall infections have been falling.
The signatories, which also included the CEO of Virgin Atlantic and Loganair, added they ‘fully understand’ concerns about the Indian variant of Covid-19, but say comments made in the past week have ‘moved the goalposts’ and ‘undermined the very purpose of the risk-based traffic light system.’
The letter says: ‘The Government now appears not to want a meaningful restart to international travel this summer, and it is impossible for any business or consumers to plan under this scenario, such that we are genuinely fearful that some UK businesses may fail.
‘Failures can be avoided. The science shows clearly the green list can be expanded safely now, including to many European countries, the US and the Caribbean.
‘Many currently amber countries have significant levels of vaccinations, rapidly decreasing case numbers and, according to test and trace data, often considerably less than one per cent of arrivals testing positive with no identified variants of concern entering the country. Under an evidence-based system based on risk, these should be green.’
It comes as it emerged today that some of the most popular holiday islands for eager British holidaymakers may soon be added to the quarantine-free ‘green’ list – even if their mainland is not.
This raises the prospect of summer travel to the Greek, Canary and Balearic islands as the next tranche of green list countries are announced next month, even if Spain and Greece remain amber.
Speaking in the letter today, travel leaders warned the UK risks ‘falling behind the rest of the world, with long-term consequences for our connectivity and prospects of a Global Britain’ if it remains grounded while the rest of Europe opens up.
They added that Britain has ‘never been in a better position’ to manage the risk from Covid-19 due to its highly successful vaccine roll-out which today opened to those aged 30 and above.
The letter added: ‘Along with the vaccination programme, our testing system allows us to assess inbound risk from medium and higher risk countries. With this safety net, we urge you to stick to the established framework, end confusion for travellers and allow our businesses to plan.
‘Airlines can deliver a meaningful restart safely but a second lost summer for the sector, due to a limited expansion of the green list compared to our neighbours, would cause lasting damage to the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism industries.
‘In that case there would be an urgent need for a dedicated aviation economic support package to safeguard many thousands of jobs otherwise under threat and protect the essential infrastructure that will be critical to the UK’s recovery and future prosperity.’
Speaking earlier, the CEO of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, Steve Heapy, insisted confusion over foreign holidays was worsened by the fact Foreign Office advice was not always aligned with the traffic light system.
He told the Guardian: To have two separate lists is utterly confusing … we have to make decisions based on conflicting information.’
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said: ‘Customers want to travel this summer – they value their holidays, want to reunite with loved ones after many months of separation and develop their businesses so I urge the Government to increase the Green list and let the UK take off once again.’
Andrew Flintham, Managing Director for TUI UK and Ireland, said holidays to destinations including Spain, Greece, some Caribbean islands and the US should now be possible due to the worldwide vaccination effort.
Fuengirola beach near Malaga is pictured yesterday as UK holidaymakers set their sights on a trip to Spain
Three women talk to each other while sunbathing on the beach at Fuengirola near Malaga in Spain on Monday
He added: ‘We’re already seeing other European markets open up to travel and welcome back customers, so now is the time for the UK to do the same. We’re a nation of travellers, so it’s time to stop limiting our ability to travel where it’s safe to do so.
‘Whilst we’ve offered outstanding flexibility for customers this summer, what customers really want is to be able to take the holiday they’ve booked and look forward to.’
Charlie Cornish, CEO of Manchester Airports Group, owner of Stansted, Manchester and East Midlands airports, said: ‘The Government is holding back international travel despite clear evidence that more countries should be on the green list.
‘The UK’s traffic light system ignores the benefits of our world-leading vaccination programme, which was meant to give Britain a head start and let people visit family and go on holiday this summer. Instead, the Government is actively telling people not to travel to amber list countries despite creating a system that makes it safe for them to do so.
‘At the same time, we are requiring millions of people with immunity from Covid-19 to pay for PCR tests to gather data on variants that other governments reliably collect already.
The green list will be reviewed next week with a formal announcement possibly on Thursday, with the changes coming into effect on June 7 (file photo of passengers in the arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport in August last year)
It raises the prospect of summer travel to the Greek, Canary and Balearic islands as the next tranche of green list countries are announced next month, even if Spain and Greece remain amber (pictured: the Greek island of Santorini)
‘With so much at stake, the Government must work transparently and collaboratively with industry to create a simple, fair and sustainable system that will truly get Britain flying again.’
Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said: ‘The UK will rapidly fall behind the rest of Europe unless it looks again at its overly cautious approach to international travel.
‘There is no reason why our green list can’t be expanded to include the US and the most popular European hotspots, or for the UK not to follow the EU’s lead in exempting vaccinated travellers from restrictions.
‘It is time to allow UK citizens to take advantage of the fantastic success of the vaccine rollout but at the moment our competitors are reacting faster to the improving health situation and will reap the rewards this summer.’
Mark Tanzer, CEO of Abta – The Travel Association, said: ‘It is illogical for the Government to not follow its own traffic light system – it makes no sense for Ministers to say people shouldn’t travel to amber countries when the Government’s own system allows people to do so in a risk-managed way.
‘Travel agents and tour operators, and their customers, need a clear and simple system to follow without contradictions otherwise our sector’s recovery will be unnecessarily slow and drawn out.’
Airline and holiday firm bosses write letter to Boris Johnson urging the Prime Minister to ‘let Britain fly again’ and expand the ‘green list’
Dear Prime Minister,
‘Let Britain Fly Again’
As leaders of the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism sectors, we are writing to you to seek urgent clarity on the position of the UK Government regarding the restart to international travel this summer.
May 17 saw the welcome but extremely limited restart of non-essential international travel, which was intended to deliver a sustainable and robust return of air travel with government policy clear that ‘the resumption of international travel is vital for the economy and the general public, and for allowing families and friends to reconnect and reunite’.
We fully understand concerns about the B.1.617 Indian variant, and potential others. It is clear why India was placed on the red list and we continue to support its use for the highest risk countries. However, formal comments made by Ministers during the last week have moved the goalposts, undermining the very purpose of the risk-based traffic light system.
We were dismayed to hear Ministers say that travel is ‘dangerous’, that people should ‘stay in this country’ and not travel to amber countries – despite this being legal – given that the framework includes such strong safety mitigations. The Government now appears not to want a meaningful restart to international travel this summer, and it is impossible for any business or consumers to plan under this scenario, such that we are genuinely fearful that some UK businesses may fail.
Failures can be avoided. The science shows clearly the green list can be expanded safely now, including to many European countries, the US and the Caribbean. Many currently amber countries have significant levels of vaccinations, rapidly decreasing case numbers and, according to test and trace data, often considerably less than 1% of arrivals testing positive with no identified variants of concern entering the country. Under an evidence-based system based on risk, these should be green.
The UK has never been in a better position to manage the risk from Covid-19. Vaccines prevent people getting ill 95% of the time, protect against all known variants of Covid-19 and reduce transmission by at least 50 per cent. Both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines are highly effective against the B.1.617 Indian variant according to new PHE data. Along with the vaccination programme, our testing system allows us to assess inbound risk from medium and higher risk countries. With this safety net, we urge you to stick to the established framework, end confusion for travellers and allow our businesses to plan.
Whilst we stay grounded, the rest of Europe is now opening up, introducing waivers for vaccinated persons and easing the criteria to lift restrictions for third countries. Spain announced last Friday that anyone who is fully vaccinated can enter without restriction. The UK is falling behind the rest of the world, with long-term consequences for our connectivity and prospects of a Global Britain. To ensure the UK benefits from a vaccine dividend, Government must recognise the protection its successful vaccination programme now provides and the large numbers of countries moving to a low-risk position.
Airlines can deliver a meaningful restart safely but a second lost summer for the sector, due to a limited expansion of the green list compared to our neighbours, would cause lasting damage to the UK’s aviation, travel and tourism industries. In that case there would be an urgent need for a dedicated aviation economic support package to safeguard many thousands of jobs otherwise under threat and protect the essential infrastructure that will be critical to the UK’s recovery and future prosperity.
We request an urgent opportunity to meet with you to discuss this situation.
Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive, Airlines UK; Johan Lundgren, Chief Executive Officer, easyJet; Sean Doyle, Chief Executive, British Airways; Steve Heapy, Chief Executive Officer, Jet2.com Limited & Jet2holidays Limited; Andrew Flintham, CEO, TUI UK&I; Charlie Cornish, Group Chief Executive, Manchester Airports Group; Michael O’Leary, CEO, Ryanair Group; Jonathan Hinkles, Chief Executive, Loganair; Shai Weiss, CEO, Virgin Atlantic Limited; Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive, ABTA; Daniele Broccoli, Managing Director, Typically Italian/Typically Spain; Jamie Gardiner, Managing Director, Diverse World.