Coronavirus: Thousands return to UK to beat France quarantine

  • 2 months   ago
Thousands of holidaymakers have rushed back to the UK in a bid to avoid quarantine measures imposed on France, which came into force on Saturday.

The 14-day isolation requirement from 04:00 BST also applied to people arriving from the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba.

Eurotunnel trains sold out on Friday and air travellers faced steep prices, but some ferries increased capacity.

France warned it would take "reciprocal measures".

The Netherlands warned against all but essential travel to the UK once the restrictions came into force on Saturday, but it said it will not introduce reciprocal measures.

The countries were targeted for quarantine restrictions because their infections rates exceeded 20 cases per 100,000 people over seven days, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

There were reported to be about 160,000 British holidaymakers in France and the deadline left many travellers in a frantic rush for plane, train or ferry tickets costing hundreds of pounds.

Kim Wells and his family were on one last ferries to arrive in the UK before the quarantine measures began - getting in to Newhaven from Dieppe in northern France with just eight minutes to spare.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he had a "pretty fraught 40 minutes" online after hearing of the restrictions through a BBC News alert.

"I ended up booking a ferry on a pretty unfashionable route... it was impossible to get back on Eurotunnel, which was the way we went to France originally," he said.

Mr Wells is a teacher and his wife a local government worker, and felt they should cut their holiday short to avoid having to quarantine as they are key workers.

Mr Wells said he was frustrated by the short notice the government gave of the rule change, adding: "I completely understand the decision, but I think 30 hours' notice and announcing it at 11 o'clock in the evening French time... was pretty unrealistic.

"I don't really understand why they can't be a little bit more clear with the public about what the tipping point is, when we might perhaps be approaching the need to quarantine... Why not 48 or even 72 [hours] just to allow those who need to or want to get home, get home without rushing dangerously."

Tom Duffell, who runs a small business, ended his holiday in Nice - with his wife and two children - four days early and booked a last minute flight.

"We've had to spend about £800 because we can't afford to take another two weeks off work," he told the BBC.

He added that social distancing had "gone out of the window" in the scramble for transport, with "huge queues" at the airport.

Stephanie Thiagharajah, who returned to Kent from France, criticised the "manic" way the quarantine had been imposed and said the "risky" move had created "a huge amount of people coming at the same time".

Eurotunnel said 12,000 people tried to book tickets for its Channel Tunnel trains in the hour after the new rules were announced at about 22:00 BST on Thursday - compared with just hundreds normally.

It increased its capacity on Friday but trains sold out.

P&O Ferries told the BBC it had increased its capacity on its Spirit class ships, while DFDS Ferries added an extra four departures from Calais to help Britons return in time.

On Friday, France reported 2,846 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours - the highest number since lockdown restrictions were eased.

The seven-day average increased to 2,041, marking the first time it has surpassed 2,000 since 20 April.

Clement Beaune, France's secretary of state for European affairs, tweeted that the UK's decision was a matter of "regret" for the French, but that he was hoping for a "return to normal as soon as possible".

The travel industry, already damaged by the pandemic, also criticised the move.

Gloria Guevara, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said the UK was lagging behind other countries that had "shunned quarantines" in favour of "comprehensive" testing programmes for everyone departing and arriving back into their respective countries.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said while the Labour Party supports "evidence based measures" at the border, it was "vital" that No 10 had a "joined-up strategy" and "urgently" puts in place a specific deal to support the heavily impacted travel sector.

He added: "That the government has still not put in place an effective track, trace and isolate system has made matters far worse and made it more likely that we are reliant on the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine."

According to the data company Statista, people from the UK paid 10.35 million visits to France last year, putting it second behind Spain - with 18.12 million - in terms of popularity.

The Foreign Office is now warning against all but essential travel to France. The quarantine measure was imposed for Spain on 25 July.

A list of more than 50 so-called travel corridors - allowing movement between the UK and the other countries with the need to self-isolate on return - was published at the start of last month and later expanded.

But the ending of some of the exemptions on the list follows a "significant change" in the risk of contracting Covid-19, the Department for Transport said.

It added that there had been a 66% increase in newly reported cases per 100,000 people in France since last Friday.

For the Netherlands, it was up 52%. And the increase for Malta was 105%, while it was 273% for Turks and Caicos and 1,106% for Aruba.

Source: BBC