France is “on the cliff-edge” of being removed from the UK’s travel corridor list, according to an industry figure, with a decision expected by the end of the week that could mean hundreds of thousands of Britons holidaying there would have to quarantine on their return.
The country, which is the second most popular overseas holiday destination for Britons, recorded its highest Covid-19 surge since May on Friday, with 2,288 new cases. UK ministers are said to be closely monitoring the situation.
Should data from the next two days confirm a continued rise in cases, France’s current exemption from quarantine restrictions is likely to end, meaning UK arrivals who have been there recently would again have to self-isolate for 14 days.
The list of approved countries is typically reviewed at the end of each week – with a decision announced on Thursday or Friday – but Downing Street warned it would “act very rapidly” to impose fresh restrictions on countries if necessary.
Travel firms were bracing for a “further shockwave”, according to Paul Charles, a consultant and spokesman for the Quash Quarantine campaign, who urged consumers to continue making plans to travel regardless of the uncertainty.
Charles said that on a key benchmark, infection rates published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, France had already surpassed the level he claimed Whitehall deemed safe.
He said France appeared on a similar trajectory to Spain – which was abruptly removed from the Department for Transport’s safe list last month. As of Monday, the 14-day cumulative number of Covid-19 cases in France was 26 per 100,000 people.
Charles said: “They are seeing it in France; the surge wasn’t strong enough last week, but it is on a cliff-edge at the moment. Unless they can demonstrate they can keep a lid on the numbers, based on the latest data it’s not looking good at all – nor in Malta, Netherlands or Switzerland.”
He added that he hoped that ministers had “learned their lesson from Spain and would give people notice”, following the 30-hour grace period when 14-day quarantine restrictions were imposed on returnees from Belgium last week.
Asked whether quarantine restrictions would be imposed on arrivals from France later this week, the prime minister’s official spokesman said on Monday: “We keep the data for all countries and territories under constant review. Any decisions to update the exemption list will be informed by the latest health data, and we can and will act rapidly if we judge that the public health risk not requiring travellers to self-isolate increases beyond an acceptable level.”
He said the exemptions list had been updated on a weekly basis to reflect the international health picture, but added: “If there is a need to act very rapidly in order to protect public health, then we wouldn’t hesitate to do so.”
Speaking during a visit to a school on Monday, Boris Johnson echoed the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s message last week that the government would “not hesitate” to impose quarantine restrictions.
Government decisions on which countries are removed from the travel corridor list are informed by a risk assessment from the Joint Biosecurity Centre, which looks not only at infection rates but other factors including testing capacity, assessment of the quality of data available, trends in incidence and deaths, as well as transmission status.
Labour called for more transparency over how quarantine decisions were made, including publishing all the scientific background. The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: “This transparency is vital if people are to have faith over how decisions are being made. Ministers also need to bring forward sector-specific support for those industries most impacted.”