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Thousands rush to beat Covid travel restrictions between France and the UK

New restrictions that come into force at midnight will make travel between France and the UK more difficult over the Christmas period.

Huge numbers of British and French people are rushing to cross the channel, in both directions, before strict new travel rules come into force.
Huge numbers of British and French people are rushing to cross the channel, in both directions, before strict new travel rules come into force. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

Passengers are rushing to beat a midnight deadline for travel to and from Britain and France, complaining of an overly draconian reaction and costly last-minute ticket changes before tough new Covid restrictions come into force.

After midnight French time, (2300 GMT Friday) travellers will need to show a compelling reason for travel between the two countries, under shock new rules announced on Thursday by France to combat the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The only exemptions for needing a compelling reason are for French and European travellers returning to France and British passengers heading in the other direction.

READ MORE Essential motives: Who is allowed to travel between France and UK under new rules?

“I feel very lucky that I managed to get out of France on the last day that it’s possible,” said Isla, a student at the Gare du Nord station in Paris with a ticket for one of the last Eurostar trains heading to London before the rules came into force.

“It is a bit worrying, it’s a bit scary. Who knows what is going to happen in January,” she added.

Travellers expressed relief at being able to travel but surprise at the need for such drastic rules.

All travellers arriving in France from Britain will need to quarantine for seven days, although this can be just two if they provide a negative test after arriving in the country.

‘All a bit panic’

“It’s a bit complicated. We are going to spend the holidays with the family because my brother lives there,” said Jonas Dessertenne, a 34-year-old physiotherapist, saying he had brought forward the tickets by several days to make the deadline.

“We will see for the return afterwards. If after we need quarantine, we will be in quarantine when we return.”

At St Pancras station in London, Elodie Entressangle, 32, said her parents urged her to bring forward her holiday trip to the French city of Lille.

READ MORE ‘Essential’ travel forms and quarantine portal: France updates travel info for UK

“I was due to leave on Sunday, but I am leaving right now. It’s pretty much a last-minute change. It’s all a bit panicky but I did not fancy spending Christmas alone here.”

As well as the ticket change, she said she had to rebook her PCR test, with France requiring a negative result from all UK travellers.

“I paid £70 to change my ticket. And I changed my test on Saturday to do one this morning, that cost £30 more,” she added.

‘Quite strong’

France on Thursday justified the new rules “faced with the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK” and to give time for its own booster programme to find the upper hand against the variant.

Charlotte Rode, a student aged 21, also heading to London, expressed frustration at how the virus kept “going and going”, sparking new waves of restrictions.

“I think it’s good to keep the masks, social distancing and all that, but yeah, the ban is quite … strong.”

The tight travel restrictions are also being imposed during what analysts see as a breakdown of trust between the British and French governments in the wake of Brexit over a host of issues from migrants to fishing.

READ MORE Unanswered questions: What we don’t know about the new France-UK travel rules

French President Emmanuel Macron last week accused UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson of failing to keep his word on Brexit, saying “the problem with the British government is that it does not do what it says”.

The new rules are set to bring havoc to numerous sectors, with this weekend’s European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup rugby matches between clubs from the UK and France postponed, organisers said on Friday.

The UK government has not sought to provoke a row with Paris over the new rules, although Downing Street spokesman did note that Britain had halted hotel quarantine “as this was no longer an effective or proportionate measure to slow the import of Omicron from abroad given it is seeded throughout the world.”

Member comments

  1. To stop this ridiculous situation of the lemmings trying to beat a deadline, why not just state the ban on travel on the day instead of giving them prior notice.

    1. Of course the ban is pointless in the first place but the notice allowed my daughter and son-in-law to make it over here for Xmas by getting a flight on Friday. Sorry. Boggy but they just made it.

  2. …we were returning to Paris and had been booked for Friday for some time…It was unbelievable!
    BUT….my concern was the fact no one asked to see our negative test paperwork….! Given the numbers clearly heading for the slopes I can’t help but wonder what might have slipped through! Clearly Macron did not remind the Border staff that the reason he closed the route was to prevent Omicron from entering….!

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TRAVEL NEWS

Everything you need to know about travel to France from within the EU

After two years of limited travel many people are planning a holiday this year and France is a popular destination - but it's easy to lose track of the latest travel rules. Here's what you need to know if you are coming to France from a country that is within the EU or Schengen zone.

Everything you need to know about travel to France from within the EU

Restrictions

France operates a ‘traffic light’ system that has been in place since summer 2020, assigning countries a colour based on their Covid infection rates.

These days most of the world is green – the lightest level of restriction – including all the countries in the EU and Schengen zone. Find full details on the government website here.

Map: French interior ministry

Vaccinated – if you are fully vaccinated according to the French definition (see below) and travelling from a green zone country all you need to show at the border is proof of vaccination. There is no requirement for extra paperwork such as passenger locator forms or health declarations and no Covid tests needed. Once in France you are not required to quarantine.

Unvaccinated – if you are not fully vaccinated according to the French definition (see below) you will need to show a negative Covid test at the border. The test can be either a PCR test taken within the previous 72 hours or an antigen test taken within the previous 48 hours. Once in France you are not required to quarantine.

Fully vaccinated – in order to qualify as ‘fully vaccinated’ you must be vaccinated with an EMA approved vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna, Astra-Zeneca or Janssen) and must be at least 7 days after your final dose (or 28 days after in the case of Janssen). If you had your vaccine more than nine months ago, you will need a booster shot in order to still be classificed as ‘fully vaccinated’ if you are aged 18 and over.

Anyone vaccinated within the EU/Schengen zone will have the EU digital vaccine pass, but vaccination certificates issued outside the EU are also accepted at the French border. 

Children – The rules on vaccination apply to all children aged 12 and over. Under 12s do not need to supply proof of vaccination at the border. Children aged between 12 and 18 do not need a booster shot, even if their vaccine took place more than nine months ago.

The above rules apply to all EU and Schengen zone countries – if you are travelling from the UK click HERE, click HERE for travel from the USA and HERE for travel from other non-EU countries.

In France

So you’ve made it into France, but what are the rules once you are here?

On May 16th, France ended the mask requirement for public transport, representing one of the last Covid restrictions still in place.

Masks – masks are now only compulsory in health establishments, although they remain recommended on public transport. They are not required in other indoor spaces such as shops, bars, restaurants and tourist sites, although private businesses retain the legal right to make mask-wearing a condition of entry.

Health pass – the health pass was suspended in March and is no longer required to enter venues such as bars, restaurants and tourist sites. It is still required to enter establishements with vulnerable residents such as nursing homes. In this case it is a health pass not a vaccine pass – so unvaccinated people can present a recent negative Covid test.

Hygiene gestures – the government still recommends the practice of hygiene gestures such as hand-washing/gel and social distancing although this is a recommendation and not a rule.

Self-isolation – if you test positive for Covid while in France you are legally required to self isolate – full details HERE.

READ ALSO How tourists and visitors to France can get a Covid test

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