UK Slams 'Not Effective or Proportionate' French Travel Ban on Britons Over Omicron Fears
05:45 GMT 17.12.2021 (Updated: 19:29 GMT 03.11.2022)
The UK registered a record number of daily coronavirus cases for the second day running on Thursday, with 88,376 infections. The day before, slightly more than 10,000 were confirmed as having the Omicron variant. Meanwhile, France reported 65,713 new COVID-19 cases over a similar period, claiming to have only 240 confirmed cases of Omicron.
Boris Johnson’s government
has deplored France’s decision to ban all tourists from the UK, underscoring that “red lists” were not “effective or proportionate at this current time.”
Paris has announced that even fully vaccinated British travellers would be banned from entering the country from midnight on 18 December, amid concerns over the fast-spreading Omicron variant
. Only those who offer a “compelling reason” will be allowed in, with French Prime Minister Jean Castex clarifying that that list does not include “travel for tourist or professional reasons”.
"In the UK government's own words, the UK is facing a 'tidal wave' of the Omicron variant in the coming days… In response to the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK, the government is reinstating compelling reasons for travel to and from the UK, and strengthening the requirement for testing on departure and arrival," the French government said in its statement.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal clarified on BFM television that “essential reasons” for travelling to France would include residency, with French citizens and their spouses, partners and children able to return from the UK.
Students enrolled in France are exempt from the ban, as well as people in transit for less than 24 hours and those travelling between the two countries due to the death or terminal prognosis of a close family member.
All individuals arriving from Britain who are exempt from the ban will be required to register on a digital platform prior to their trip, informing authorities of the address they plan to stay at in France.
They will need to have a negative virus test less than 24 hours old, as opposed to the previous requirement of taking a COVID-19 test 48 hours before departure. Upon arrival in France, they will be required to test again and isolate “in a place they choose” for at least 48 hours.
This comes as of 16 December, France claims to have identified 170 positive cases of the Omicron variant. Cases include both those who recently travelled to southern Africa as well as local infection, according to the French health minister Olivier Veran.
15 December 2021, 18:16 GMT
Meanwhile, the UK set another record, with 88,376 new coronavirus cases reported on Thursday, while the number of confirmed Omicron cases rose to 11,708, up 1,691 on Wednesday.
Travel Bans ‘Not Effective or Proportionate’
The UK had been informed in advance of the French decision regarding the travel ban, stated Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson.
“It is up to individual countries to decide their approach. We’ve maintained that travel abroad will be different this year and that countries may impose border measures at short notice in line with their own policies in line with rising Omicron cases around the world,” said Johnson’s spokesperson.
However, Downing Street did not think that travel bans were an “effective or proportionate” response to Omicron.
“On our part given the given the transmissibility of Omicron and its seeding around the world, we don't think that Red Lists are effective or proportionate at this current time,” emphasized the PM’s spokesman.
In an attempt to allay concerns regarding any possible disruption of goods deliveries, the UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, tweeted that he had “liaised with my French counterpart” French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and “hauliers will remain exempt” from the new restrictions.
However, representatives of the UK tourism and travel industry slammed the French move as delivering yet another crippling blow.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, was cited by UK media outlets as saying:
“Blanket country measures are a damaging backwards step and never work. Omicron is already in France and other EU countries. Why should the millions boosted be treated the same way as those unvaccinated, and prevented from entry?”
ABTA’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, similarly deplored the new wave of cancellations set to batter the travel and tourism sector.
“Reports that France is to introduce a temporary ban on most travel from the UK will come as a hammer blow to the winter travel industry, which is already under extreme pressure following the new Omicron restrictions,” he was cited as saying.
As news of the measure broke, flights, trains and ferries to France sold out within hours.
Eurostar, the high speed train that directly links the UK to France and Belgium via the Channel Tunnel, reported a rise in bookings, while according to aviation analytics company Cirium, there were 540 flights scheduled between the UK and France ahead of Christmas Day. Cross-Channel ferry operators also registering a bookings surge.