British tourists are rushing home from holidays in France after their government said it would soon impose a 14-day quarantine on travellers from across the Channel due to rising coronavirus infections there.
Britain's government announced late yesterday that it would impose a quarantine from 3am tomorrow on arrivals from France, giving an estimated 160,000 UK holidaymakers there just over 24 hours to get home to avoid having to self-isolate once back.
The sudden rule change dealt a fresh blow to tourists, airlines and tour operators all hoping for holidays after the pandemic, which has left many travel groups cash-strapped and facing an uncertain future.
Many British tourists headed towards the French port of Calais hoping to catch a ferry or a shuttle train home in time.
In Calais, queues of cars were expected to build this afternoon. Ferry companies were adding extra crossings to help more people get home before the deadline, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the Port of Calais, told Reuters.
The new quarantine rules apply to France, the second-most popular holiday destination for Britons, the Netherlands and the Mediterranean island of Malta, transport minister Grant Shapps said.
Spain, the favourite holiday destination for Britons, came under British government quarantine rules on 26 July.
France warned it would reciprocate, causing further headaches for airlines which might have to cancel yet more flights, meaning fresh financial pain and denying them the August recovery for which they had hoped.
Airline and travel shares tumbled. British Airways-owner IAG was down 6% and easyJet, which said it would operate its full schedule for the coming days, fell 7%.
When Europe first went into lockdown in March, Britain was criticised for not restricting arrivals from abroad. But since June, it has introduced strict quarantine rules for arrivals from countries with infection rates above a certain level.
The tightening quarantine for foreign travel, however, contrasts with the easing of rules at home, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered the gradual reopening of the economy to resume, weeks after pausing it.
Mr Shapps denied that the policies were contradictory, saying that the aim was to keep the reproduction rate of infection below one.
"Being able to open up some of those things but having to close down travel corridors elsewhere is all part of the same thing," he told BBC Radio.
Mr Shapps said he sympathised with travellers but that they should not be entirely surprised, given the fluid situation around the pandemic.
"Where we see countries breach a certain level of cases ... then we have no real choice but to act," he told Sky News.
He ruled out any special assistance for holidaymakers, saying they knew the risks before travelling, with a possible quarantine to France having been rumoured for weeks.
Airlines UK, an industry body representing BA, easyJet and Ryanair, called on Britain to implement more targeted quarantines on the regions with the highest infection rates and to bring in a testing regime.
An EU study showed that imported cases of Covid typically only account for a small share of infections when a pandemic is at its peak, but are more significant once a country has the disease under control.
People arriving to Northern Ireland will be subject to the latest measures.
The UK government said it needed to remove France, the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, the Dutch territory of Aruba, and the British Turks & Caicos Islands from its list of coronavirus travel corridors, to keep infection rates down.
Data shows we need to remove France, the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks & Caicos & Aruba from our list of #coronavirus Travel Corridors to keep infection rates DOWN. If you arrive in the UK after 0400 Saturday from these destinations, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days.— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) August 13, 2020
France's Europe minister, Clement Beaune, said that it was "a British decision we regret and which will lead to a reciprocal measure," adding that France "hoped for a return to normal as soon as possible".
Yesterday, France recorded 2,669 new coronavirus infections, its highest daily number since May.
The latest 14-day cumulative figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show 32.1 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people in France, compared with 18.5 in the UK.
Tourists may struggle to get home early
Channel Tunnel operator Getlink warned that many travellers may not be able to get back to the UK.
John Keefe, Getlink's director of public affairs, told BBC's Newsnight the trains were "already pretty much fully booked" today.
"We just haven't got the space to take everybody who might suddenly want to come up to the coast. So what we are saying to people is amend your booking online, make sure there's space before you travel to the terminal."
He said there was "some possibility of adding additional trains in the off-peak periods" but would-be travellers must check online before heading to the terminal.
"The important thing is that people understand that it's not going to be easy to get back and they have to be sensible about this and not get themselves into difficulties," he said.
Meanwhile, theatres, casinos and bowling alleys will be allowed to reopen in England from this weekend as the government resumes its easing of lockdown restrictions.
From tomorrow, socially distanced audiences will be allowed back into indoor venues, while wedding receptions of up to 30 people will also be permitted.
The government said it will resume plans to pilot a small number of sporting events in order to test the safe return of larger crowds.
This will begin with the final of the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre this weekend.
If venues are able to successfully keep fans socially distanced, sports arenas could reopen to supporters from 1 October.
Tattoo studios, beauty salons, spas and hairdressers will all be able to offer additional services, including front of face treatments such as eyebrow threading.
Additional reporting PA