Just as the tide seemed to be turning in favour of granting fully jabbed people the freedom to travel with minimal restrictions, France has announced that it will be banning all ‘non-essential travel’ from the UK, regardless of vaccination status. Jenny Southan reports

From 11pm UK time tonight (December 17), France will no longer let in travellers for any “non-essential” reason, meaning tourists, business travellers and non residents wanting to spend Christmas with friends or family will not be allowed in.

With very few exemptions (which have deliberately only been published in French for British people to translate themselves), the door has been slammed tightly shut. It doesn’t matter if travellers have had two or three Covid jabs, are willing to undergo testing and quarantines, or are visiting relatives who are French residents.

From Globetrender’s point of view, this sets an alarming new precedent. Up until now, the return of civil liberties was going hand-in-hand with vaccine status – something that may have felt uncomfortable to some but was largely accepted as the price of freedom.

However, if governments can disregard citizen’s vaccine status so blithely, this will immediately remove a huge incentive for getting jabbed in the first place and create enormous mistrust of authorities – as well as the efficacy of the vaccine. “If it doesn’t work – just tell us,” people will say.

The new rules…

Under the new rules, people are only allowed to travel from Britain to France if they are a French citizen or a spouse of one, a foreigner permanently residing in France, someone carrying out essential work, or in transit for less than 24 hours. EU nationals can travel to France on their way home. Hauliers are exempt.

If travellers do have a “compelling reason for essential travel”, i.e., not for holiday purposes, these are the rules to be followed:

  1. The full list of what constitutes “essential travel” can be viewed on the French Government website (in French).
  2. All travellers must present a negative PCR or antigen test result – taken within 24 hours of departure – certified by a laboratory. Upon arrival in France self-isolation is necessary for 48 hours, and a negative PCR or antigen test is required to exit self-isolation. Without a negative test result, self-isolation for a further seven days is necessary.
  3. Contact details, including the address at which visitors will be staying, must be provided to the French authorities via an online form. In addition, travellers need to complete a sworn statement (déclaration sur l’honneur), self-certifying that they are not suffering from coronavirus symptoms and have not been in contact with any confirmed cases in the previous two weeks (again, see the French government’s website).
  4. It is not permitted to use the NHS testing service to get a test to facilitate travel to another country.  Only tests from a private coronavirus testing provider, with results laboratory-certified, are acceptable.
  5. HGV or van drivers arriving in France from the UK can continue doing so without providing a negative Covid-19 test to enter France.

Needless to say, the travel industry is in uproar – especially as President Macron’s decision to close borders to the UK appears politically motivated. (He’s up for re-election in the spring and doesn’t want a fresh lockdown to hamper his chances of winning.)

France says the travel ban is to give it more time to distribute booster shots but what about tourism from other countries?

What impact will it have on aviation between the UK and France?

According to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium, this Saturday (the day restrictions begin) there are 81 flights scheduled from the UK to France – equating to 13,977 seats.

In the seven days before Christmas (December 18-24) there are 540 flights scheduled between the UK and France – equating to 93,021 seats.

In the next two weeks, Easyjet is the largest airline flying between the UK and France with 419 flights, followed by Air France (217) and British Airways (179).

With the ban on non-essential travel, a very large portion of these flights will likely be cancelled.

Easyjet issued this comment…

“Following new emergency travel rules announced today for non-French nationals travelling from the UK to France, we know many customers will need to change their plans and so we have been informing customers of their options.

“Our Protection Promise provides some of the most flexible policies including a market-leading refund policy for those impacted by restrictions across Europe which, where there is a lockdown travel ban in place, provides customers – including those due to travel to France in the coming weeks – with the option of a refund, voucher or free transfer to a later date, even if their flights are still operating.  All easyJet customers can continue to change their flights without a change fee up to two hours before departure.”

What does the World Travel and Tourism Council think?

Julia Simpson, president and CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council issued a statement saying: “This is an ineffective, knee-jerk reaction by the French government. Banning travel to France will not stop Covid variants that are already in France. As South African scientists said, these decisions are based on hysteria not logic.

“This decision will destroy long planned family reunions and it has long term implications for a travel and tourism sector that was just beginning to recover.

“Governments should be focusing on individuals allowing people who are fully vaccinated to travel freely. Banning whole countries has been proved to not work.

“We know this drastic measure will do nothing to stop the new virus strain but will be a major blow to the Travel & Tourism sector – which is the last thing it needs right now. We should be focusing on stopping community transmission, by enforcing on mask wearing and implementing enhanced health and safety measures.”

This is what British travel journalist Simon Calder of The Independent wrote in his latest newsletter…

“Hold my pastis,” said Emanuel Macron to Boris Johnson, as he upped the stakes in the festive “which European leader can inflict maximum damage on their tourism industry and the travel hopes and dreams of humanity?” competition. While other nations were imposing tighter testing rules as a proportionate response to the spread of omicron, the French president decided to go nuclear.

All family visits, holidays and business trips for British travellers are off until further notice. Only a “compelling reason” is permitted for travel from the UK to France – with the bar for compassionate exemptions set painfully high at for the death or terminal prognosis of a close relative.

From families kept apart at the one time of the year when they could and should be close, to those who have lost much-needed escapes to mountains, beaches and cities, the short-term harm is profound. Looking ahead to 2022, the prospect of further knee-jerk intolerance of pi, rho, sigma and all variants to omega serves to destroy faith in the industry of human happiness.

AITO chairman Chris Rowles says…

“Today’s very last-minute cancellation of the festive season for British holidaymakers wishing to visit our near neighbour, France, is an extremely unwelcome pre-Christmas ‘gift’. It is a simply devastating situation for the UK’s travel industry, destroying as it does both long-planned Christmas holidays and the many ski businesses which operate in French ski resorts.

“Pent-up demand from UK-based skiers unable to travel last winter has meant that bookings were at higher-than-normal levels this Christmas/New Year, to add insult to injury. Now operators are having to contact thousands of would-be skiers/other UK holidaymakers to explain that travel for holiday purposes, regardless of vaccination status, is not considered an ‘essential reason’ for travel by the French Government and is therefore banned with effect from this Saturday, December 18.

“French and EU nationals, and residents in France, are exempt from this rule. Unfortunately, this seems very much like a French ‘tit for tat’ Brexit-related rebuffal. As before, HGV and van drivers arriving in France from the UK are able to continue to do so without providing even a negative Covid-19 test to enter France. I fail to understand why this is the case as it represents a huge loophole in the rules and will allow the Omicron variant to spread freely throughout Europe.

“The likely impact on the main booking period in January will be devastating for all operators across the board; they all desperately need business in 2022 after suffering nearly two years of a serious booking drought, but this latest news is likely to affect consumer confidence badly. We urgently need the UK government to provide the travel industry with financial assistance in the light of this ruinous situation.

“AITO therefore calls upon the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer urgently to work out a rescue package for this badly-beaten-up industry. We seem to be the sector that no-one cares about; please put that right at long last and keep travel companies afloat until we turn the Covid corner and can again trade consistently and earn our own living.”

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