France travel restrictions: Paris eases strict COVID rules for arrivals from the United Kingdom

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France has today eased strict COVID travel restrictions for arrivals from the United Kingdom.

It means vaccinated travellers will no longer be required to self-isolate upon arrival.

Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office said the easing was down to the “predominance of the Omicron variant in both France and the United Kingdom”.

France reimposed travel restrictions with the UK in the lead-up to Christmas as the new variant, first detected in South Africa in November, was spreading fast across Europe with Britain initially the most impacted.

The easing has been welcomed by the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), who stressed in a statement that “once a variant is endemic closing borders is pointless and only damages livelihoods especially in travel and tourism one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic.”

“France is one of the biggest markets for UK tourists who, according to WTTC’s 2021 Economic Impact Report, account for 14% of overseas visitors. Total international visitor spend in France was worth more than €60 billion pre-pandemic,” Julia Simpson added.

How has France eased travel restrictions for UK arrivals?

From Friday, all travellers, regardless of the vaccination status, will have to present a negative test (PCR or antigenic) no older than 24 hours to enter France.

Vaccinated people will however no longer be required to justify a compelling reason to visit the country and will no longer have to submit to a period of self-isolation.

Unvaccinated people, however, will need to present a compelling reason, fill out a passenger locator form prior to departure and observe “a strict” 10-day quarantine at their chosen location that “will be monitored by police”.

How is France’s COVID surge?

The number of infections detected in France has been breaking record after record.

It first crossed the 100,000 threshold earlier this month before continuing to rise at a breakneck speed to reach more than 361,000 on Wednesday. Omicron accounts for more than 65% of the sequenced positive tests, Santé Publique France said.

The strain on the healthcare system is also growing as nearly 24,000 people are currently hospitalised for COVID across the country, an increase of more than 3,000 from a week ago. Among them, nearly 4,000 are in critical care, a week-on-week rise of over 300.

French lawmakers are currently debating a law that would tighten restrictions on the unvaccinated by barring them entry into bars, restaurants, cultural and leisure venues even upon presentation of a negative test.

The number of new infections has meanwhile started to come down in the Uk in recent days after reaching a peak of 218,000 on 4 January. On Wednesday, just over 129,500 new infections were confirmed.

The country is the second most heavily impacted in Europe after Russia with more than 150,000 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Omicron symptoms: What we know about illness caused by the new variant

Though much remains uncertain, experts are beginning to understand more about the variant and how it affects people who are vaccinated, unvaccinated or who have had a Covid infection. For example, people who are exposed to omicron appear to get sick faster and may have symptoms that are different than those of other variants.