The British government threw the holiday plans of tens of thousands of people into disarray Friday night when it reversed plans to open up travel from France because of concerns about a Covid-19 variant circulating in the country.
Plans to relax self-isolation rules for people traveling from a wide range of countries will no longer apply to France because of the persistent presence of the Beta variant, which was first discovered in South Africa and is believed to be more dangerous than other variants, the government said.
The announcement came just days after authorities confirmed plans to lift the quarantine requirement for fully vaccinated people arriving from “amber list” countries, including most destinations in the European Union.
The about-face comes at a critical moment in Britain’s battle against coronavirus, with remaining restrictions set to end on Monday and summer holidays for most school children scheduled to begin Friday.
“We have always been clear that we will not hesitate to take rapid action at our borders to stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the gains made by our successful vaccination program,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement.
“With restrictions lifting on Monday across the country, we will do everything we can to ensure international travel is conducted as safely as possible, and protect our borders from the threat of variants.”
Fully vaccinated travellers from France, including those who transit through the country, will continue to be required to self-isolate for up to 10 days on their arrival in Britain.
Advocates for the travel industry reacted with outrage.
“This announcement is a real setback to international travel,” said lawmaker Henry Smith, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation.
“We all expected that the traffic light system would provide much-needed certainty, yet our current approach has only delivered confusion which continues to prevent any meaningful recovery for our aviation, travel and tourism sectors.”
Travellers expressed frustration after discovering that they would need to quarantine when returning home despite being fully vaccinated.
Graham McLeod, from Bolton in northwest England, is staying at his holiday home in Charente Maritime on France’s Atlantic coast with his partner.
“In terms of government messaging, we’d say it’s inconsistent, irregular, unclear and frankly unworkable,” the 63-year-old retiree said. “We struggle to understand the sudden desire to introduce quarantine for returnees from France and cannot help feel this has far more to do with politics and much less to do with science.”