Thousands of Brits return to UK to avoid France quarantine

15 August 2020, 08:23

Holidaymakers have been rushing back from France
Holidaymakers have been rushing back from France. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Tens of thousands of UK tourists in France have made it home before the imposition of quarantine restrictions at 4am this morning.

Tickets for planes, trains and ferries were snapped up by travellers at increased prices as they attempted to beat the deadline.

The dash to get home was prompted by the decision to impose a 14-day self-isolation quarantine on travellers from France due to rising numbers of coronavirus cases in the country.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the Government had taken "a practical approach" to the new restrictions.

The quarantine conditions also apply to travellers returning to or visiting the UK from the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks & Caicos and Aruba.

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, the train service which carries vehicles through the Channel Tunnel, was fully booked on Friday.

A spokesman said 12,000 people tried to book tickets in the hour after the new rules were announced at about 10pm on Thursday, compared with just hundreds normally.

Some air fares were more than six times more expensive than normal.

British Airways was selling tickets for a flight from Paris to London Heathrow on Friday night costing £452.

The same journey on Saturday could be made with the airline for just £66.

The cheapest ticket on a Eurostar train from Paris to London was £210, compared with £165 on Saturday.

Trains were busy as people scrambled for last minute seats
Trains were busy as people scrambled for last minute seats. Picture: PA

Matt, a teacher from Manchester who did not share his second name, took his car on a Channel Tunnel train which was due to arrive back in the UK at 3.55am.

His family had been camping in the Dordogne and had planned to come home on Monday but changed their tickets for an extra £115.

The family drove for 10 hours to Calais to catch the train and spent another £66 to stay at a hotel in the early hours before driving on to Manchester.

"We literally got on the last available train... we'd been keeping up-to-date with the chaos at Calais so we were fearing the worst," the 40-year-old said.

"Luckily, once we got to Calais we sailed through and actually got back at just gone 3am."

Matt said he did not want his family to be in quarantine on his daughter's eighth birthday next Friday, and the new measures would also have prevented a trip to see family in Scotland next weekend.

Asked about the Government's timing over imposing the deadline, Matt said: "How much swearing are you allowed to include if I give you my honest views on the Government?

"They're a complete shambles, beyond incompetent... they need to be clearer and give more warning.

"Is there a tipping point figure (of coronavirus cases), or do they just apply it as and when they feel like it?"

Another holidaymaker, Joe White from Surrey, said they were "proactive" and had booked their Friday night journey back to the UK early in anticipation of a rule change.

"I think the Government were pretty transparent that France was likely to be added to the quarantine list and I feel that anyone going away should have been prepared to take the risk that they might have to quarantine," the 31-year-old said.

"If they weren't prepared to do so then should have stayed at home."

However, Mr White was one of many to be caught in long queues at the Channel Tunnel.

"We were waiting over two hours in the boarding lane with no information as to when we would actually leave," he added.

On Friday, despite the new rules, undeterred passengers at London St Pancras made their way onto the 10.24am Eurostar service to Paris, including lawyer John Strange, 60, from Reading.

He said he was going to the French capital for 10 days and it was possible for him to work from home on his return.

"It's not a disaster for me but it seems for many people it will be, particularly those with young families, it's going to be catastrophic," he explained.

"I'm sure many will have to cancel their plans and have to accept all that pain and cost that goes with it."

One traveller who gave her name as Sonata K, a 39-year-old dentist, was due to head to Paris for four nights with her mother - but cancelled her plans after finding out about the quarantine measures at St Pancras on Friday morning.

She said: "It's not worth it to go out and have to self isolate. With my work I can't do the procedures from home.

"We were too late to get the news, we're just finding out here but it's better than on the train.

"We're looking at going to Cardiff and checking trains now, but the weather is changing a bit."

She added that for £30 they could change their Eurostar tickets to another day and said one hotel had charged them one night's stay for late cancellation.

Two pub workers arriving back in London from a 10-day trip to Belgium said they were required to self-isolate for 14 days - but that they had been taken off furlough and needed to work.

Asking to remain anonymous, one said: "I need the money, I can't work from home, I need to work. It's so tricky.

"My boss won't allow me to legally, so I'll need to find some kind of odd work in the meantime to get by."

Flights and trains were full on Friday
Flights and trains were full on Friday. Picture: PA

Travellers in the south of France and the Netherlands faced a struggle getting back to the UK in time as many direct fights were sold out.

Holidaymakers Stuart and Anna Buntine spent nearly £1,000 to make it home via Eurostar from Burgundy, central France.

Mr Buntine, 58, said: "I went to bed last night thinking it was all OK, woke up at 7am to find we had to get back here pretty sharpish.

"We couldn't get tickets, all the sites had crashed... we had to buy business class tickets back today so it's cost nearly £1,000."

Mrs Buntine added: "We left here with our eyes (open) knowing that it was a possibility, so we decided we'd take that risk."

Dyan Crowther, chief executive of the HS1 high-speed London to Channel Tunnel rail link, told PA it was "heartbreaking" seeing families having to cancel holiday plans and spend hundreds of pounds dashing home to beat quarantine.

She said: "People want certainty, they want to know that they can go away without having to worry about what the world will look like when they return.

"My heart goes out to them."

A spokeswoman for travel trade organisation Abta said the Government's quarantine policy will "result in livelihoods being lost unless it can step in with tailored support for the travel industry".

The Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England reported a significant change in Covid-19 risk in all six destinations for which quarantine restrictions are being imposed.

The Home Office said on Friday that a total of nine fines have been issued at the border since quarantine restrictions were introduced.

The department counts the number of fixed penalty notices issued by Border Force under the regulations.

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