UK relaxes French travel restrictions

LONDON — Travelers arriving in England from France will no longer need to quarantine provided they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the British government announced Wednesday.

The U.K. Department for Transport said it had taken the decision after a drop in the proportion of cases of the Beta variant of COVID-19 in France. Experts fear the U.K.’s current vaccines could be less effective against this variant, which was first discovered in South Africa.

The move brings France in line with other countries on the U.K.’s so-called “amber list,” and allows the British government to simplify its travel restrictions by removing the controversial “amber-plus” category, which had only included France.

Those arriving from “amber list” countries do not need to quarantine, provided they are fully vaccinated and have tested negative to the virus, whereas “amber-plus” stipulated that travelers must quarantine at home for 10 days. Travelers from “red list” countries are required to isolate in a government-approved hotel.

Paris had complained about the U.K.’s decision to make an exception of France, with French Europe Minister Clément Beaune saying the move “discriminates against the French.”

Responding to the latest change, a French government advisor said: “If it’s the case then it is a good thing, it’s something the French government has been calling for. It means the French government has been heard.”

They added: “The justification for the quarantine was not completely clear. [The U.K. government’s] justification was based on a presence of the South African variant on Réunion Island. You can legitimately ask yourself why you would block the traffic between France and the U.K. because of what is happening on Réunion Island. It’s far from neutral.”

Under the U.K.’s plan, Réunion Island itself will be added to the red list as France moves into amber.

The French advisor would not be drawn on whether Britain’s initial decision to place France alone on the amber-plus list had been politically motivated, but said the case for quarantine was “not very convincing.”

The U.K. government will also ease travel restrictions on people returning to England from Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Romania and Norway, adding them all to the U.K.’s “green list.”

People traveling to England from these countries will not need to self-isolate, even if they haven’t been vaccinated, but will need to be able to prove they have tested negative, before and after they travel.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wanted a “balanced” approach to international travel. Speaking during a visit to Scotland, he said he knew “how important holidays are to people.”

“People think about them, they save up for them, people yearn to go abroad this year — I totally get that,” he said. “We’ve got to balance that against the need to protect our country against the influx of new variants.”

Spain, an important tourist destination for Britons, will remain on the “amber list.” However, the government advised travelers to take a PCR test rather than a lateral flow test before returning to the U.K. in order to prevent the importation of variants of concern with high prevalence in Spain, including Beta and another variant first detected in Colombia in January.

India, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE will move from the red list to the “amber list,” after the government concluded they pose a lower risk to Britain’s public health. However, along with La Réunion, Georgia, Mayotte and Mexico will also be added to the “red list.”

The changes to England’s travel list will come into force on Sunday.



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