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COVID-19: France tightens testing rules as British travellers rage at UK’s ‘chaotic’ quarantine U-turn

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People who have had both doses of a vaccine and children under 18 will be able to enjoy quarantine-free travel from amber list destinations from Monday – but France is now excluded.

Holidaymakers and industry groups have hit out at the late decision to make Britons quarantine for 10 days when they return from France.

From Monday, UK residents who have had two COVID jabs will no longer have to isolate after returning to England from amber list countries such as Spain, Portugal and Greece.

France was meant to be part of the plan, but last night the government said it would be excluded while it looks at latest data on rising cases of the Beta variant in the country.

It means travellers must continue to quarantine for 10 days.

They must also have a coronavirus test on the second and eighth day – however the option of ending isolation early on day five with a separate test will remain.

The policy switch has angered Britons currently on holiday in France, while Easyjet’s boss said it “pulls the rug” from people already on trips to the country, which is introducing its own enhanced testing regime for non-vaccinated people arriving from places where the Delta variant – not Beta – is considered especially prevalent.

People who have not been double jabbed will have to test negative for COVID-19 (via PCR or antigen) within 24 hours of arrival in France if they are travelling from the UK, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Greece.

Previously, people only had to test negative 72 hours – or in the UK’s case, 48 hours – beforehand.

But in another change, fully jabbed people are now completely exempt from any constraints when entering France, so long as the vaccine they received is in use in the EU.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps defended the UK government’s approach and said it was committed to safely reopening international travel but that public health was the priority.

The quarantine requirement will also apply to Wales, but Scotland and Northern Ireland are yet to confirm what they intend to do. Each of the devolved administrations sets their own travel rules.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “We have been informed by the UK government of this late change regarding France after changes to our regulations for 19 July have been made.

“We will of course also want to safeguard against the importation of the Beta variant from France, so would expect anyone entering Wales from France to self-isolate and we will be working to align our regulations as soon as possible.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We are considering the best approach for Scotland as we look to adopt a four nation approach on international travel, where possible.

“Decisions on border health measures are a devolved matter and will be taken by ministers on the basis of evidence and with the safety of our communities as our primary concern.”

Georgina Thomas, a fully-vaccinated nurse who has been visiting her parents in France, said she couldn’t understand the UK government’s decision.

“I’m frustrated with the inconsistent approach the government are taking, it doesn’t all appear logical,” the 32-year-old told the PA news agency.

“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.”

Graham McLeod, from Bolton, who has been staying on on France’s Atlantic coast, said he would also have to isolate despite being double-jabbed.

The 63-year-old called it “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,” he added.

Travel industry body ABTA called it another setback for holiday firms that would “undoubtedly dent consumer confidence in overseas travel”.

Easyjet boss Johan Lundgren said it “pulls the rug” from under people already in France, or those booked to go.

“The traffic light system is falling apart with the government making it up as they go along and causing confusion and uncertainty. It is not backed up by the science or transparent data,” he said.

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said UK border policy was “descending into further chaos” and accused ministers of “making up rules on the hoof”.

“Once again the travel industry and the British people are paying the price,” he said.

While current Beta – or South Africa – variant cases are not high enough to put France on the red list and enforce hotel quarantine, the government said the risk must be guarded against.

UK cases are massively dominated by the Delta variant and there are concerns some vaccines may be less effective against the Beta type.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that ministers were right to be worried about it.

“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,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“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.”

The transport secretary added: “Travel will be different this year and whilst we are committed to continuing to open up international travel safely, our absolute priority is to protect public health here in the UK.

“We urge everyone thinking about going abroad this summer to check their terms and conditions as well as the travel restrictions abroad before they go.”

And newly appointed health secretary Sajid Javid said the government had been clear they “will not hesitate to take rapid action” if necessary.

“With restrictions lifting on Monday across the country, we will do everything we can to ensure international travel is conducted as safely as possible, and protect our borders from the threat of variants,” Mr Javid said.

UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries added: “As we ease restrictions and begin making our way back to a normal life, its more vital than ever that we listen to the data and act decisively when it changes.

“While vaccines are helping us turn the tables against this virus, we need to continue to proceed cautiously.

“That means maintaining our defences against new variants and protecting our hard won progress through the exceptional vaccination roll out.”

The department also clarified that amber list exemptions for key workers including hauliers would remain in place.

Journalist and science writer for NewsAfrica24, the Atlantic, New Scientist, Aeon, Men’s Health, and many others. Author of The Intelligence Mafias, published by Stoughton (UK)/WW Norton (USA) and translated into six languages.

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Health

Fully vaccinated travellers finally able to enter New Zealand from next year without quarantine

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This gradual reopening will bring to an end some of the world’s tightest pandemic restrictions, which were put in place almost two years ago by the South Pacific country.

Fully vaccinated travellers will finally be able to enter New Zealand from 30 April 2022, easing border restrictions that have been in place since March last year.

Meanwhile, fully vaccinated New Zealanders and residence visa holders in neighbouring Australia will be able to enter the country from 16 January.

Fully vaccinated residents and visa holders from most other countries will be allowed in from 13 February.

The country has had some of the tightest COVID-19 border restrictions. Pic: AP
Image:The country has had some of the tightest COVID-19 border restrictions. Pic: AP

This gradual reopening will bring to an end some of the world’s tightest pandemic restrictions, which were put in place almost two years ago by the South Pacific country to limit the spread of COVID-19 and help its economy bounce back.

But an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant earlier this year has forced a shift in strategy, with the main city of Auckland now only gradually opening up as vaccination rates climb.Advertisement

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said: “A phased approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensure risk is carefully managed.

“This reduces any potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system.”

Under the new rules, travellers will no longer be required to stay at state quarantine facilities, but other measures will be put in place – including a negative pre-departure test, proof of vaccination and a coronavirus test upon arrival.

ANALYSIS BY SHARON MARRIS, NEWS REPORTER AND NEW ZEALANDER IN THE UK

New Zealand has been praised by experts around the world for its tough stance on COVID-19 – it locked down tough and early when the seriousness of the virus became known last year.

But when it closed its international borders, it locked many thousands of overseas-based Kiwis out of their own country.

In recent months, entry for citizens (and a very narrow group of exceptions) has been largely limited by the number of spaces in hotel isolation (Managed Isolation and Quarantine). Getting a space currently means entering a lottery, where tens of thousands of New Zealanders fight for what is usually between 3,000 and 4,000 spots.

It is possible to get an emergency space but the bar is set extremely high – New Zealanders have been stranded overseas with expired visas, some have missed saying goodbye to dying relatives, and a growing number are struggling with the mental effects of what it means to be effectively shut out of one’s country.

Today’s announcement will be met with a huge amount of relief but there will also be frustration that the changes are still so far away.

For months, the number of cases detected among returning New Zealanders has been in single figures – with pre-departure tests and some flights also now requiring vaccination, most of the risk is eliminated before boarding the plane.

The number of cases being picked up among returning New Zealanders is far outstripped by those emerging daily in Auckland.

New Zealanders who travel or live overseas have always felt safe in the knowledge that our passports mean we can go home if things turn sour. And we’re lucky that home is one of the safest and most beautiful places in the world.

New Zealand’s border policies during the pandemic, have shattered that. New Zealanders overseas will welcome the changes, but I don’t think many of us will ever look at our passports in the same way again.

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Health

COVID-19: Italy to scrap quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers from UK

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From 31 August, double-jabbed visitors from the UK can show a negative COVID test to avoid hotel quarantine.

Travellers from the UK will no longer have to quarantine when they arrive in Italy if they are fully vaccinated and can show a negative COVID test.

Italy’s health ministry said the five-day mandatory quarantine will be scrapped from 31 August.

The negative PCR or antigen coronavirus test must have been taken 48 hours before arriving in Italy – and it must have been at least 14 days since the second vaccine dose was administered.

Existing restrictions for visitors from other countries will remain in place.

The country had introduced the restrictions on 21 June amid growing concerns over the Delta variant‘s prevalence in the UK.Advertisement

Until 30 August, anyone who has been in the UK in the previous 14 days has to show a negative test to enter the country, self-isolate for five days, and then take another negative test to be released from quarantine.

Italy is on the amber list for all four nations in the UK.

This means that fully inoculated travellers coming back to the UK from Italy also need to show a negative test that was taken up to three days before travelling.

Data released by Italian health officials on 20 July showed that the Delta variant accounted for 94.8% of coronavirus cases in the country.

In the UK, the figure is over 98%.

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