Double-vaccinated travellers returning from France will still be forced to quarantine next week after ministers made a last-minute change to rules due to come into force from Monday.
Earlier this week, ministers considered placing France on the red list amid concerns about the prevalence of the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa, across the Channel.
They have instead decided to exempt France from the new system to come into force from Monday, which will see passengers from other amber list countries allowed to avoid 10 days’ quarantine if they have had two jabs.
The change will affect thousands of British holidaymakers who were poised to benefit from the new lighter-touch regime over the school summer holidays, as well as travellers hoping to visit relatives in France. The announcement was made late on Friday.
In a separate development, British citizens will be largely banned from entering Bulgaria from next week despite the country moving on to the UK’s quarantine-free green list at the same point.
Just two days after the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, announced Bulgaria and Hong Kong were being added to the green list, the Bulgarian health minister, Stoycho Katsarov, announced the UK was going on its own high-risk “red zone” list along with Cyprus, Spain, Fiji and Kuwait.
It will mean that from Monday, only Bulgarian nationals, long-term residents and their immediate family members will be eligible to enter from the UK.
The criteria Bulgaria sets for countries being moved into the red zone list is if case rates go above 500 per 100,000 people, there is a lack of reliable information, or if a “variant of concern” is spreading there.
Its decision was taken after the UK’s daily number of new coronavirus cases climbed above 50,000 for the first time in six months – almost of all which are the Delta variant.
Infections are forecast to keep rising higher, with the health secretary, Sajid Javid, admitting they could soon top 100,000 a day. The highest number reported in a single day in the UK since the pandemic began stands at 68,053, recorded on 8 January when England was in the infancy of its third lockdown.
Bulgaria had previously put the UK in its amber zone, meaning visitors were permitted if they were fully vaccinated, had recovered from the virus or taken a recent negative PCR test.
Countries on Bulgaria’s green zone list include: Austria, Germany, Estonia, Iceland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Finland, Croatia, Greece, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, France, Norway, San Marino, Andorra, Monaco and the Vatican City State.
Despite the UK’s vaccine rollout, which has seen 35 million people given both doses of their Covid jab, some countries around the world are watching nervously as restrictions in England prepare to be lifted from Monday .
Particular attention will be paid to the possibility of new variants emerging – like the Alpha one which originated in Kent – that could cause havoc with the government’s plan of telling people to live with the virus.