The government was embroiled in a spiteful diplomatic standoff with France on Saturday night after its surprise decision to continue to impose a 10-day quarantine on fully vaccinated people returning from the country.
French officials seemed baffled by the move, suspecting British ministers of having based it on the increase in cases on the French island of Reunion – nearly 6,000 miles from Paris.
On Friday, the government announced the end of the quarantine for vaccinated UK residents returning from countries on the “amber” list, but said this would not apply to France due to the beta variant, first identified times in South Africa.
Prominent France-based British journalist Alex Taylor was among those who ridiculed the move, saying it seemed Boris Johnson “does not understand that Reunion Island and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean are part of France”.
Previously, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said its decision was taken “following the continued presence of cases in France of the beta variant”. As the
Observer went to press, the ministry had not yet responded to requests for explanations of its decision-making. The beta variant would be responsible for a small number of 5,000 daily cases on average in France, according to a French government application.
GisaÃ¯d, a website that tracks variants of Covid, claims the beta variant accounts for 3.4% of cases in France with the majority in Reunion. The Consul General of France in London said that “scientific justifications do not always immediately spring to mind”.
The move caused “massive confusion,” said Gemma Antrobus, of the Association of Independent Tour Operators. “This new level of traffic light, this fifth traffic light that we have now – amber-plus – has never been mentioned,” she told the BBC. âThe travel industry is as shocked as the consumers. Antrobus estimates that “hundreds of thousands” could be affected. Travel industry body Abta said the move was yet another setback for hopes of a “meaningful recovery” for the industry. EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said he was “pulling the rug” under those who were already in France or those who had booked vacations there.
There was, however, some scientific support for the movement. Professor John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine – a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – said the beta variant “has remained a threat throughout.” Although he is less contagious than Delta, he told the BBC, âhe is able to evade the immune response to a better extent. Among the existing and known variants, this one has always been a threat. There is good evidence in South Africa that it can evade the immune response generated by the AstraZeneca vaccine more effectively. “
Official figures show there were 54,674 cases of coronavirus in the UK on Friday and 5,795 in France. France recorded a new record of vaccinations with 879,597 in one day. Almost 55% of the
French population has received at least one dose of vaccine and just under 44% is fully vaccinated.
Outgoing British Ambassador to France Lord Llewellyn said the move would be disappointing for many, but people could reduce their 10-day quarantine with a negative “early-release” PCR test.
This early-release test, however, does not eliminate the need for second-day and eighth-day PCR testing from government-approved labs, costing hundreds of pounds.