Furious Britons have slammed France for banning British tourists from the country starting on Saturday over fears of the Omicron variant.
Emmanuel Macron’s government singled out the UK for the ban on non-essential travel, claiming it is designed to slow the arrival of the super-mutant variant into France.
However the travel industry and experts point out that Omicron is already well established in France – and even makes up a higher proportion of French cases according to the latest available data.
France’s daily Covid cases are already soaring after the arrival of Omicron and are approaching the same level per million as in the UK.
Omicron is also widespread across many European countries including Denmark, which has not been included in the French travel ban.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘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?’
And spokesman for ferry operator Brittany Ferries said: ‘These new measures are a hammer blow to our Christmas season.
‘In the context of an Omicron variant that is passing through the French population as it is in the UK, further border controls seem as unnecessary as they are unwelcome.’
The Omicron variant is already growing rapidly in France so the measures have been panned
Cases per million people also shows the UK behind Belgium, Switzerland and Denmark
This chart shows the proportion of all cases that are Omicron according to the latest genetic sequencing data. France sequences far fewer cases than the UK, but the super-mutant strain makes up a higher proportion of those they do sequence than in the UK.
The UK has far more cases than France of the virus and its new strain which is spreading fast
French president Macron at the EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Brussels yesterday
Many Britons, including Ollie James above, have seen their Christmas plans destroyed today
Ollie James has had his £12,000 ski holiday cancelled he revealed on Twitter this morning
A French government spokesman confirmed there will be a ‘requirement to have an essential reason to travel to, or come from, the UK, both for the unvaccinated and vaccinated’.
He added: ‘People cannot travel for touristic or professional reasons.’
They insisted French citizens and EU nationals could still return to France from the UK.
Delta remains the dominant variant in France, but Omicron is spreading so fast in Britain that it’s raising concerns across the Channel.
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on BFM television that tourism or business trips from Britain to France ‘will be limited,’ though French citizens will still be able to make the journey.
All those arriving from Britain will need to have a negative virus test less than 24 hours old, and to test again upon arrival and isolate ‘in a place they choose’ for at least 48 hours pending the result, Attal said.
Health minister Gillian Keegan was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for her reaction to the French travel restrictions.
She said: ‘Well, actually, my first thought is ‘I’m glad that I cancelled my trip to France’, because that’s where I was supposed to go for Christmas.
‘But, of course, every government is dealing with Omicron, every government has to make their decisions and has their response to it, you know. It is obviously going to alter people’s plans, which is very unfortunate.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he has spoken to his equivalent in the French government, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, and agreed that hauliers will be exempt from the new restrictions.
British tourists were dismayed at the news of the ban from the French government
France reported on Tuesday over 63,400 positive Covid tests, the highest figure since April, while almost 2,800 people are in intensive care with the illness. Pictured: A graph showing the seven-day rolling average of new Covid-19 cases in France
Pictured: A graph showing the seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus deaths in France
Travel union calls for Government support
ABTA called for Government support for the travel industry.
Chief Executive, Mark Tanzer, said: ‘This ban will come as a hammer blow to the winter travel industry, which is already under extreme pressure following the new Omicron restrictions.
‘The winter sports and school travel markets are particularly exposed, and the Government must now bring forward a support package if we are not to see company failures and job losses.
‘The travel and tourism sector has had little chance to generate income since early 2020 and is now faced with another wave of cancellations. Travel businesses have reported turnover at just 22% of pre-pandemic levels following two years of Government-imposed restrictions and consumer confidence in overseas travel has been hit hard.
‘Any Government review of business support to address the impacts of Omicron must include as a priority travel agents and tour operators.’
The UK recorded the highest number of confirmed new COVID-19 infections Wednesday since the pandemic began, and England’s chief medical officer warned the situation is likely to get worse as the omicron variant drives a new wave of illness during the Christmas holidays.
It is a rapid turnaround from yesterday when the government said returning travellers would need a negative test less than 24 hours old, a blanket quarantine would be enforced on return to France, and trips for tourism limited.
‘We will reduce the validity of the test to come to France from 48 hours to 24 hours,’ they said.
‘We will limit the reasons for coming to France from the UK, it will be limited to French nationals and residents and their families.
‘Tourism or business trips for people who do not have French or European nationality or are residents will be limited.’
‘People (coming back) will have to register on an app and will have to self-isolate in a place of their choosing for seven days – controlled by the security forces.
‘This can be shortened to 48 hours if a negative test is carried out in France,’ he said.
Attal said this policy was aimed at ‘tightening the net’ to slow down the arrival of Omicron cases in France and give time for the French vaccination booster campaign to make more ground.
‘Our strategy is to delay as much as we can the development of Omicron in our country and take advantage to push ahead with the booster drive,’ he said.
The news will be a blow to any Brits who had booked a holiday in France over the next month
Skiing resorts had been preparing to welcome British tourists until today’s shock change
Britain on Wednesday recorded a record 78,610 laboratory-confirmed Covid cases, with scientists predicting even higher rates as Omicron is believed to spread much faster than the currently dominant Delta variant.
The tight travel restrictions are also being imposed during what analysts see as a breakdown of trust between the British and French governments in the wake of Brexit over a host of issues from migrants to fishing.
French President Emmanuel Macron last week accused UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government of failing to keep its word on Brexit, saying ‘the problem with the British government is that it does not do what it says’
On Wednesday over-65s in France without Covid-19 booster jabs lost their ‘health pass’ under new rules.
The pass was introduced in the summer and makes full vaccination against Covid-19, a recent recovery or negative test obligatory for visiting any restaurant or cafe, inter-city train travel and going to cultural venues like cinemas or museums.
The government says some 400,000 people aged 65 and over who are eligible for the booster shot have yet to take it, which is 12 percent of those aged 80 and above and 10 percent of those aged 65 to 79.
People in the 65 plus age group who have failed to take up the booster shot will see the QR code in their health pass generated by a mobile phone app automatically dis-activated.
France is currently engulfed in a fifth wave of Covid caused mainly by the Delta variant, and it has at least 170 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant too.
It follows complaints by numerous French travellers about the lack of enforcement of anti-Covid safety measures in the UK.
On Tuesday it emerged that even football commentators from one of the biggest broadcasters in France have stopped travelling to English stadiums – because nobody at all bothers wearing an anti-Covid mask.
Anthony Tobelem, a senior journalist on Canal+, made the startling admission while highlighting the growing health crisis in the Premier League.
Pointing to a record 42 positive Covid test results for players over a week, he said: ‘Us commentators have been staying in the Canal+ studio for two weeks in light of these figures.
‘It’s for the better given that if you don’t wear a mask, you’re at risk of testing positive, and the English until a few days ago did not wear a mask.’
Mr Tobelem added: ‘I have never seen an Englishman wearing a mask in any stadium since I’ve been there in August [at the start of the current season]’.
Wearing a mask to football matches is compulsory in France, but there is currently no such rule in England, even though many health professionals advise usage in crowds.
The need to wear a mask on trains, coaches and other forms of transport is meant to be mandatory in the UK, but the measure is not strictly enforced.