New ‘amber plus’ quarantine status for France — what does it mean?

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Travellers from France who are fully vaccinated by the NHS were expecting the need to quarantine to end at 4am on 19 July – in line with the relaxation of international travel rules that day.

Instead, self-isolation will continue to be mandatory for arrivals from France.

These are the key questions and answers.

What was planned originally for France?

On 8 July the UK government announced that people who had been fully vaccinated by the NHS would no longer need to quarantine when returning from “amber list” countries. A large majority of popular nations are in this category, including France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the United States.

The idea was that from “Freedom Day,” 19 July, anyone who had been immunised would be regarded as low risk and able to avoid quarantine – along with under-18s, who have generally not been vaccinated.

Such a policy is common around Europe and the world. Arrivals from Italy, Spain, Greece and France were all set to benefit – and bookings soared to many amber list destinations.

What has happened now?

Less than 60 hours before international travel is due to become easier for vaccinated British travellers, the government announced France is to be left out of the scheme.

Fears about the “beta variant” of coronavirus have led ministers to create a new category for incoming travellers: effectively, “amber plus”.

Unlike the regular amber list, from 4am on Monday arrivals from France must quarantine in their own accommodation for 10 days and complete two PCR tests, regardless of vaccination status.

France is second only to Spain in terms of British visits, and is home to hundreds of thousands of UK expatriates and property owners. Hundreds of thousands of travellers who were banking on quarantine-free travel back from France have had their hopes dashed.

Why wasn’t France put on the red list?

That was an alternative considered by ministers, requiring hotel quarantine from all arrivals. But it is believed the “managed quarantine” system would not have been able to cope with the numbers of arriving travellers.

Will there be an almighty rush home?

No, because effectively for travellers from France, the rules simply stay as they are – there is no deadline to beat.

Anyone travelling over the weekend from France to a neighbouring country such as Belgium, Italy or Spain will not benefit. The test is: have you been in France in the past 10 days? If so, then you must self-isolate for 10 days – though travellers arriving in England can pay for an extra test on day five and leave quarantine if it proves negative.

I have a holiday booked in France. What are my rights?

Many people made late bookings for summer holidays in France because it appeared to be a safe, quarantine-free location for vaccinated British travellers.

Legally, travel firms can say they are able still to offer the holiday as booked; the fact that travellers must self-isolate is not their problem.

In practice, airlines, ferry firms and tour operators are likely to offer flexibility with the chance to postpone the trip, but will stop short of giving full refunds.

What about travelling through France without stopping?

Motorists passing through France in transit to the UK from Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany or anywhere else will be regarded as arriving from France, and be subject to the new rules.

One possible exception is for Eurostar rail passengers from Brussels, Rotterdam and Amsterdam to London St Pancras International. The government says that if no new passengers get on the train, then travellers may escape the “amber plus” category.

Will other countries join the amber-plus category?

Almost certainly. The government is probably wishing it had thought of the “medium-high-risk” classification earlier, since it allows mandatory self-isolation to continue without obliging all arrivals to go into expensive and arduous hotel quarantine, but while limiting the risk to public health in the UK.

The data analyst Tim White said it was “a huge mistake not to have a category between amber and red, or make it clear ‘old amber’ would stay for some”.

He said: “Luxembourg is finding the ‘Brazilian’ variant (gamma) is becoming dominant. We await new data from Luxembourg’s neighbours, Belgium and Germany. Both countries are seeing rising infections now, a little later than most of their neighbours and from a low base.

“Sequencing data won’t be available for at least another week from current infections. But I would not be surprised if the government’s advisory committee is looking closely at the situation there.

“The Netherlands shares borders with Belgium and Germany. It’s had some of the strongest Covid-19 growth we’ve ever seen. The Dutch infection rate is now more or less level with the UK’s and still rising.

“I’ve seen no evidence that Spain or Greece are affected by new or dangerous variants. But the sometimes random way this government has acted regarding travel, does not inspire me with confidence.”

What does the travel industry think?

There is universal fury at the move. “This will ruin summer for many people,” said John Keefe of Eurotunnel, which runs the Shuttle operation for cars between Folkestone and Calais.

“It is disappointing that the government has cancelled the option of quarantine-free travel for double-vaccinated parents and their families so close to the school holidays and so soon after they had confirmed that travel to France was safe.”

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), said: “The UK has no coherent policy on international travel. The government is flip-flopping and making life impossible for people who are desperate to see friends and family.

“They promised freedom on the back of a successful vaccine program and now pull the rug out from people at the eleventh hour.

“The UK is entrenching itself as an outlier in its confused approach to travel. This, in turn, is destroying its own travel sector and the thousands of jobs that rely on it.”

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