France and the Netherlands added to quarantine list

13 August 2020, 21:59

Tourists wearing protective masks walk in front of the Eiffel Tower
Tourists wearing protective masks walk in front of the Eiffel Tower. Picture: PA

By Megan White

France and the Netherlands have become the latest countries to be removed from the UK's travel corridors list, meaning travellers returning from those countries must quarantine for two weeks.

Brits returning to the UK after 4am on Saturday will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Monaco, Malta, Turks & Caicos Islands and Aruba have also been removed from the list.

The move came after Boris Johnson said ministers would be "absolutely ruthless" in deciding on whether to impose the self-isolation requirement.

Read more: PM reopens bowling alleys and casinos but increases fines for lockdown breaches

The decision to add France will cause dismay for thousands of British holidaymakers currently in the country.

The UK's ambassador to France, Lord Llewellyn, recognised that the quarantine announcement would be "unwelcome news" for Britons in the country, but emphasised "you are not being asked to leave France immediately."

The decision was made in response to the spread of the virus, with the latest 14-day cumulative figures showing 32.1 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in France, compared with 18.5 in the UK.

France's secretary of state for European affairs said the UK decision would lead to "reciprocal measures" across the Channel.

Clement Beaune tweeted: "A British decision which we regret and which will lead to reciprocal measures, all in hoping for a return for normal as soon as possible."

Transport secretary Jean-Baptiste Djebbari added that he had spoken to Mr Shapps about the decision.

He tweeted: "France regrets the British decision and will apply reciprocal measures in terms of transport.

"I told my counterpart Grant Shapps of our will to harmonise health protocols in order to ensure a high level of protection on both sides of the Channel."

There has been a consistent increase in newly reported cases in the Netherlands over the past 4 weeks, with a 52 per cent increase in newly reported cases between August 7 and 13.

People wearing face masks walk in Dam Square, Amsterdam
People wearing face masks walk in Dam Square, Amsterdam. Picture: PA

Over the past week, there has been a 273 per cent increase in newly reported cases in Turks & Caicos and 1,106 per cent increase in newly reported cases in Aruba.

Malta has had a 105 per cent increase in newly reported cases over the past 7 days.

The move will come as a bitter blow to the hard-pressed French tourism industry which relies heavily on visitors from the UK.

Channel Tunnel operator Getlink said additional services may be laid on but warned that many passengers may not be able to get back to the UK.

John Keefe, Getlink's director of public affairs, said the trains were "already pretty much fully booked" on Friday.

"We just haven't got the space to take everybody who might suddenly want to come up to the coast. So what we are saying to people is amend your booking online, make sure there's space before you travel to the terminal."

He said there was "some possibility of adding additional trains in the off-peak periods" but would-be travellers must check online before heading to the terminal.

"The important thing is that people understand that it's not going to be easy to get back and they have to be sensible about this and not get themselves into difficulties," he said.

The French were expected to impose reciprocal quarantine arrangements following the UK's move, Mr Keefe added.

In response to the new quarantine measures, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, said: “While we support evidence based measures at the border, it’s vital that the Government has a joined-up strategy, and recognises the impact of this on travel-related businesses. It is vital that a sector-specific deal is put in place urgently.

“That the Government has still not put in place an effective track, trace and isolate system has made matters far worse and made it more likely that we are reliant on the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine.

“The Government should publish all of the scientific evidence its decisions are based on and details of any work being done to reduce the time needed to isolate through increased testing and other measures.”

Commenting on the impact of France being added to the quarantine list on the travel sector, Rory Boland, Which? travel editor, 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 FCO 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."

Before the announcement was made, Mr Johnson said: "We have got to be absolutely ruthless about this, even with our closest and dearest friends and partners.

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"I think everybody understands that."

Mr Johnson said the Government could not allow the UK's 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 a very strict way," he said during a visit to Belfast.

With Spain already on the quarantine list, it now means that holidaymakers returning to the UK from the two most popular overseas destinations must now isolate for 14 days.