Travellers express their confusion at the change of quarantine rules for people arriving from France to England
The last-minute announcement that travellers returning from France must continue to quarantine from Monday – even if they are double jabbed – has caused “mass confusion”, a travel expert has said.
Travellers and the travel industry have expressed their anger and frustration at the announcement that double-jabbed residents arriving into England from France will still have to self-isolate for 10 days.
The government has said this is due to the “persistent presence” of the Beta coronavirus variant in France - previously known as the South African variant.
Meanwhile, France is adapting its border measures to require non-vaccinated travellers arriving from the UK to complete an antigen or PCR test less than 24 hours before departure - it's currently 48 hours.
Anyone arriving from other amber list countries into England and who are double jabbed will not have to self-isolate for 10 days.
Listen to our coronavirus podcast:
A travel expert said no one had expected the measure - which some are dubbing as the introduction of "amber plus" - leaving travellers and the industry in "shock".
Gemma Antrobus, of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, said: “This new level of traffic light, this fifth traffic light that we now have – amber-plus – wasn’t something that’s ever been mentioned, so nobody expected this to come.
“So really the travel industry are in as much shock as the consumers are right now and really we would just have to pick up the pieces and deal with it and help our clients through this pretty terrible situation.”
Ms Antrobus estimated “hundreds of thousands” of people may be affected by the change, including people who were waiting to see family members.
ITV Political Correspondent David Wood explains why the government has changed the quarantine rules
Abbie Longstaff, who is due to travel to France tomorrow to see her dying mother, says the new rules will impact her at an already stressful time.
"Late last night was such little notice for changes that are coming in on Monday," she told ITV News.
"It makes you so anxious when you don't hear of any changes until such last minute."
Georgina Thomas, a fully-vaccinated nurse from Buckinghamshire, has been visiting her parents in the countryside between La Rochelle and Bordeaux for the last three weeks with her one-year-old daughter Grace.
“I’m frustrated with the inconsistent approach the government are taking, it doesn’t all appear logical,” the 32-year-old said.
“If a quarantine is necessary then so be it but I’m confident that my risk will be higher when I return to the UK.
“I hope people don’t see this as a disincentive to be vaccinated, it’s still so important.”
Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tourism Association, described the government’s late changes to quarantine rules in relation to France as “abrupt” but “hardly surprising”.
“This government really specialises in abrupt changes of policy but people who are describing shock and dismay really should have got used to this sort of thing occurring,” he said, speaking on Times Radio.
“Anyone with children in this country has been watching government policy change and switch and move direction and it’s hardly surprising that we’re seeing (this) now in the Channel area.”
But he added: “One of the many problems we’ve got at the moment is that the nature of the dialogue is determined by popular opinion and popular opinion says that you’ve got to be as cautious as possible.
“We’re having a conversation about worry, yes there is an unknown out there… but I’m much more concerned that the discussion revolves entirely around the need to go on holiday, and I work for the tourism industry."
A scientist who advises the government has warned the Beta variant of the coronavirus spreading in France may evade vaccines and said ministers were right to be concerned.
“The Beta variant has remained a threat throughout. It is probably less infectious than the Delta variant that is spreading here in the UK at the moment. Where it has an advantage is that it is able to escape the immune response to a better extent,” Professor John Edmunds told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
The member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said: “As the population here becomes more and more immune, the conditions are right then for the Beta variant to get an advantage, so I can understand the concern.
“Of the variants that are out there and are known about, that one has always been a threat to us. There is some good evidence from South Africa that it can evade the immune response generated by the AstraZeneca vaccine more efficiently.”
But traveller Graham McLeod, from Bolton who is staying in his holiday home on France's Atlantic coast with his partner, has accused the government messaging of being "inconsistent, irregular, unclear and frankly unworkable."
“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," the 63-year-old retiree said.
Mr McLeod had planned to stay in France for five weeks, but they are now planning to return after less than three weeks.
“We could stay and hope the situation changes but given the knee-jerk reaction by the UK government we cannot take the chance in case the situation deteriorates further,” he added.An EasyJet spokesperson said their "flexible policies mean that all customers can transfer their flights to another date or destination up to two hours before departure fee free.”
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said: "People will agree or disagree about whether it’s right to impose further restrictions on travel from France, but there’s no excuse for announcing it late on a Friday night, especially when there was already a planned update to government travel rules on Wednesday.
"This will cause chaos for people who have just arrived in France who will now face quarantine on their return or those who are due to travel there imminently. Many will struggle to get a refund or claim on their insurance.
"As this announcement underlines, travelling this summer carries considerable risk. Given the very late notice, travel companies should make every effort to support affected holidaymakers and provide them with clear information about their options, allowing customers due to visit France the chance to rebook or get a refund if they can no longer travel."