Britain quarantine change sparks scramble to return from France - GulfToday

Britain quarantine change sparks scramble to return from France


Passengers walk through arrivals onto the main concourse at St Pancras International station in London on Friday. AFP

British holidaymakers faced a scramble to get home on Friday after the government said it will reimpose a 14-day quarantine for travellers from France and the Netherlands, prompting Paris to quickly announce a "reciprocal measure."

The UK government said the change will kick in at 4am on Saturday, likely sparking a mass exodus among the estimated 160,000 British holidaymakers currently in France, after a rise in coronavirus cases there.

AirportFranceQuarintinePeople queue in line to check-in for a British Airways flight to Heathrow airport. AP

Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted that France, the Netherlands, Monaco, and Malta would be affected in Europe, as well as Caribbean island states Turks & Caicos & Aruba.

French junior minister for European affairs Clement Beaune said it was "a British decision we regret and which will lead to a reciprocal measure".

France "hoped for a return to normal as soon as possible," he added.

Claudia, a 42-year-old German who lives in London but is currently on holiday in southwest France, called it an "absolute nightmare."

"Even if we wanted to we could not come back in time. Eurotunnel is sold out for any slot after midday," she told AFP.

'Quarantine roulette'

French student Antoine, 23, had to rush back to Bristol, where he is at university, cutting short his summer holidays.

"I'm a waiter in a small café near college, I can't afford to spend 14 days in the house," he said at London's St Pancras railway station after getting off a Eurostar train.

AirportFranceArrivalsPassengers walk through arrivals onto the main concourse at St Pancras International station in London. AFP

"I was supposed to come back on Monday morning, but as soon as I heard the news I rushed to the Eurostar app to change my ticket — 125 euros ($148) more than my original ticket."

Britain's badly-hit tourism sector also criticised the move.

"The UK needs a more sustainable long-term plan for the resumption of travel than quarantine roulette," said a spokesman for Heathrow Airport, the country's busiest hub.

On Thursday France recorded 2,669 new coronavirus infections, its highest daily number since May.

For months Britain had no quarantine measures but in June imposed a blanket self-isolation requirement on all people arriving.

Weeks later it carved out "travel corridors" which exempted travellers arriving from certain countries from quarantine.

However, the measures were reintroduced for arrivals from Spain in late July, catching airlines by surprise -- as well as thousands of Britons leaving for their holidays.

AirportLineAn airport employee directs people for check-in for a British Airways flight to Heathrow airport. AP

Britain then reimposed quarantine for travellers from Andorra, Belgium and the Bahamas last week.

Scientists at Britain's Joint Biosecurity Centre advised the latest measures be taken after France's cases per 100,000 population rose above 20.

"France is heading in the wrong direction... we have to act," Shapps told the BBC on Friday.

'Levelled off'

With more than 41,000 deaths caused by the COVID-19 disease, Britain is the worst-hit country in Europe and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised over his handling of the crisis.

His government announced late on Thursday that casinos and bowling alleys will be allowed to reopen in England after being shut during the lockdown, but that those not wearing masks face harsher fines.

Skating rinks can also reopen and pilot schemes of larger crowds at sporting events will be introduced following a two-week delay to the initial plans caused by a spike in cases.

Johnson said "concerns" about increasing cases two weeks ago had dissipated after growth "levelled off" — although more than 1,000 people a day are still testing positive.

Indoor theatres, music and performance venues will be able to reopen with socially distanced audiences.

"However, as I have always said, we will not hesitate to put on the brakes if required," the prime minister warned.

The government also announced that the fine for those who "repeatedly flout face covering rules" will be doubled to a maximum of £3,200 ($4,200), alongside penalties for "people hosting raves or other unlawful gatherings of more than 30 people."

Agence France-Presse

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