People arriving in England from France will still have to quarantine for 10 days on their return – even if they have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine, the government has announced.
From Monday, those who have had two COVID vaccine doses will no longer have to isolate after travelling back from countries on the so-called amber list.
However, the Department of Health and Social Care announced on Friday evening that – although still on the amber list – the new rule will not apply to those returning from France due to a large number of cases of the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa.
It means all those making their way back to England from France must continue to quarantine for ten days despite the rule change which comes into force on Monday.
They must also complete a coronavirus test on the second and eighth day after their return, irrespective of vaccine status.
The option of test and release from isolation after five days with a negative coronavirus result will remain in place for travellers from France, the government said.
“From Monday 19 July, UK residents arriving from amber countries who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to quarantine, although they will still need to comply with necessary testing requirements,” the department said.
“However, this will not apply to France following the persistent presence of cases in France of the Beta variant, which was first identified in South Africa.
“Anyone who has been in France in the last ten days will need to quarantine on arrival to England in their own accommodation and will need a day 2 and day 8 test, regardless of their vaccination status.
“This includes any fully vaccinated individual who transits through France from either a green or another amber country to reach England.
“The Test to Release scheme remains an option for travellers to shorten their quarantine period should they test negative after day 5.”
While current cases of the Beta coronavirus variant in France are not high enough to mandate putting France on to the red list and enforcing a ten-day mandatory hotel quarantine period for all returning travellers, the risk of transmission must be considered, the department added.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government’s priority is “to protect public health” in the UK.
“Travel will be different this year and whilst we are committed to continuing to open up international travel safely, our absolute priority is to protect public health here in the UK,” he said.
“We urge everyone thinking about going abroad this summer to check their terms and conditions as well as the travel restrictions abroad before they go.”
And newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government has been clear they “will not hesitate to take rapid action” if necessary.
“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 programme,” Mr Javid said.
“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.”
And UK Health Security Agency Chief Executive Dr Jenny Harries added: “As we ease restrictions and begin making our way back to a normal life, its more vital than ever that we listen to the data and act decisively when it changes.
“While vaccines are helping us turn the tables against this virus, we need to continue to proceed cautiously. That means maintaining our defences against new variants and protecting our hard won progress through the exceptional vaccination roll out.”
The department also clarified that amber list exemptions for key workers including hauliers will remain in place.
From Monday, a new rule announced by Mr Shapps earlier this month comes in to force, allowing those double-jabbed to skip quarantine when returning from amber list countries – apart from France.
From the same date, the guidance that people should not travel to countries on the amber list will also be removed, allowing people to travel for leisure, business and to see family.
It means getaways to popular holiday hotspots including Spain, Portugal and Greece are much more achievable for many holiday makers this summer.
But Friday’s announcement that France is excluded from this isolation exemption will undoubtedly disgruntle individuals with trips booked to the country in the coming weeks.
And Conservative MP Henry Smith, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation called the move “a real setback to international travel”
“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,” Mr Smith said in a statement.
“Yet again, a last-minute announcement raises significant questions about whether the traffic light system is fit for purpose in its current form and pushes the UK further behind Europe despite our world-leading vaccination programme.
“We cannot afford to continue with this on-again, off-again approach to international travel, which is leaving consumer confidence in tatters, pushing businesses to the brink and will lead to further job losses.”