U.K. Tightens Quarantine Rules for Travelers From France

The U.K. government abruptly reimposed quarantine rules on travelers returning to England from France days before it was due to ease the restrictions for most of Europe, drawing immediate anger from tourism bodies and airlines.

Citing concern about the spread of the beta variant of the virus, U.K. ordered late Friday that anyone arriving after Monday from across the Channel will have to isolate at home for up to 10 days and will need at least two coronavirus tests after arrival even if they are vaccinated.

The new system, dubbed “Amber Plus” to draw a distinction from the government’s Amber list of restricted countries, will apply to all English travelers currently in France and also to travelers further afield who need to drive through France to return to the U.K. Spain and Italy -- both major destinations for Britons -- remain on the Amber list, which from Monday will no longer require the additional tests and quarantine.

The move adds a further level of complexity and expense for English families trying to plot their way through the summer after the end of a torrid school year. Taking the two tests, and the option of a third to break isolation early, will add hundreds of pounds to the cost of a trip to France.

“This announcement will undoubtedly dent consumer confidence in overseas travel just as we are about to see many amber-listed countries opening up,” travel agents’ and tour operators’ association ABTA said in a statement. “Continuing changes to travel restrictions will delay any meaningful recovery for the industry.”

The move comes days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to lift most remaining Covid restrictions on Monday, even as new cases in the U.K. approach record levels. The decision also delivered another setback to a tourism industry that was beginning to look to the future with guarded optimism.

“This decision adds yet more confusion to a travel system already complex enough,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive officer of Airlines UK. “These random rule changes make it almost impossible for travelers and industry to plan ahead, and can only further undermine consumer trust at the very peak of the summer season.”

The government cited what it called the “persistent presence” in France of cases of the beta variant first identified in South Africa for its decision. The variant is not only highly infectious but more resistant to vaccines than other strains. In France the majority of cases of the strain have been recorded on La Reunion, a French island off the coast of southern Africa and not in mainland France.

“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,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. Javid, who has been in the post for less than a month, announced on Saturday that he had tested positive for Covid-19, even after receiving both doses of the vaccine.

The travel announcement came Friday hours after official figures showed the U.K. had more than 50,000 new infections for the first time in six months, the bulk of them being the delta variant. France reported more than 10,000 new cases Friday, with more than 60% of them delta.

“The U.K. has no coherent policy on international travel,” said Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association. “The U.K. is entrenching itself as outlier in its confused approach to travel. This, in turn, is destroying its own travel sector and the thousands of jobs that rely on it.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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