France to be as cases rise

Amy Jones
·4 mins read
The Government's 'Covid Cabinet', chaired by Michael Gove, met to discuss a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travellers arriving in the UK from France - Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
The Government's 'Covid Cabinet', chaired by Michael Gove, met to discuss a mandatory 14-day quarantine for travellers arriving in the UK from France - Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

France is expected to be struck from the Government’s quarantine free travel list, amid rising concern over new cases in the country.

On Wednesday, the French health ministry reported 2,524 new coronavirus infections for the previous 24 hours, the country's highest level since its lockdown began. Since Monday, new cases have come close to doubling in France every day.

Meanwhile, pressure mounted on the Government to strike Malta from its "green list" of quarantine-free countries as Norway and Belgium imposed new restrictions on the island nation.

Malta has seen a steep increase in coronavirus infection figures in the past two weeks and registered 49 positive cases on Wednesday, bringing its number of active cases to 486.

A travel industry source said Malta's fate was "all but sealed" after a failure to get case numbers under control. It has a case rate of 46.7 per 100,000 of the population, more than double the base rate used by the UK Government to assess risk.

Other nations that look likely to come under 14-day quarantine rules include Poland, Iceland, Cyprus and the Netherlands. Data analysis shows Gibraltar, Monaco, San Marino, the Faroe Islands, Turks and Caicos and Aruba are also at high risk of being removed from the safe list.

The potentially large number of countries facing new restrictions has led the travel industry to issue a renewed plea for a regional approach to quarantine.

"We need the Government to make progress now on the things that will allow people to travel with confidence for their next summer," an aviation industry source said. "The blanket approach has been fairly devastating.

"Take the approach to drop the Canaries [from the list of quarantine-free destinations]. I don't think it was acknowledged that they were across an ocean from the [Spanish] mainland. Those islands are massively important economically for the tourist industry, and removing them was a real hammer blow."

Other countries, such as Germany, have implemented a regional approach. It asks citizens to quarantine only after travel to particularly affected hotspots.

Noel Josephides, a director at the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), said Germany's "sensible and logical thinking" contrasted with the UK's "swift panic response".

He said: "The Government, despite many approaches from the industry, chooses to ignore us and not to seek our input. This is patently foolish and explains to a large degree Government's apparent stabs in the dark."

Aviation sources said on Wednesday evening that the power to decide which countries to quarantine – and how – rested too heavily with Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary,  and the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty.

One source said: "Any view voiced by the chief medical officer and others in the 'health space' seems to always outweigh anything else. Whether it’s the consumer benefit from holidays or just the economic benefits of keeping people in jobs in the travel industry, we just seem to be continually losing out in that fight."

Lucy Moreton, a professional officer for ISU, a trade union representing workers in the UK Immigration Service, warned that a last-minute decision on France could cause a "flood" of Britons attempting to return to evade quarantine.

She said: "What we saw when Spain came off the list was that the communications from carriers to their passengers wasn't clear. A lot of people also hadn't completed the health declaration in advance of travel so we saw a lot of angry people who got held up at the border – queues at Heathrow shot up two hours.

"There has been a massive spike in the abuse for staff by passengers who were angry at the Government's decision."

Meanwhile, British Airways on Wednesday confirmed that holidaymakers could be offered pre-flight coronavirus tests in a bid to boost demand.

"We are currently discussing the possibility of helping our customers access pre-flight testing through third parties if their destination requires this, but no plans have been finalised. We will share more in due course," a BA spokesperson said.

Many destinations that have reopened to tourism require visitors to present a negative coronavirus test on arrival, often at the traveller's cost.