The French government on Thursday banned non-essential travel to and from Britain and tightened testing requirements for travelers, as a record increase in Omicron cases across the Channel raised concerns that France would soon be faced with a similar tsunami of new infections.
Jean Castex, French Prime Minister, said in a statement that “in the face of the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK”, the government has decided to act. He urged those planning to visit Britain to postpone their trips.
British authorities on Thursday reported 88,376 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest number of known infections in a single day since the start of the pandemic. England’s chief medical officer has warned more records will likely be broken in the coming days, with cases of the Omicron variant doubling less than every other day in parts of the country.
Mr Castex said that from Saturday travel to or from Britain would only be allowed for “urgent” reasons – such as a family medical emergency or a legal summons – regardless of status traveler’s vaccine. New restrictions effectively ban French and UK tourists during the peak holiday season.
Non-essential business travel is also banned under the new restrictions, Mr Castex said, but added that the new rules would not apply to French citizens living in Britain who wish to return to France.
Those who leave Britain for France will face more stringent testing requirements, even if they are vaccinated. All travelers will be required to present a negative virus test carried out within 24 hours of departure, compared to 48 hours previously. (The 24-hour rule already existed for unvaccinated travelers.)
All travelers arriving from Britain will also need to register online and self-isolate for up to 10 days. However, they can be tested 48 hours after arrival, and if it turns out negative, they can end their isolation period.
France is already facing an increase in cases attributed to the Delta variant, putting pressure on an understaffed and pressured hospital system after nearly two years of battling the virus. Nearly 3,000 Covid-19 patients are in intensive care, the highest level since June, and authorities expect that number to reach 4,000 by the end of the year.
Gabriel Attal, spokesperson for the French government, told the news channel BFMTV Thursday that the aim of the new travel restrictions was to “slow down and reduce as much as possible the arrival of cases of the Omicron variant on our soil”.
Mr Attal said 240 cases of the variant had already been detected in France, but added that “there are probably more”. The government is calling a special cabinet meeting on the virus on Friday and may announce new measures in the coming days.
France recently closed nightclubs for four weeks and tightened some restrictions on schools. But President Emmanuel Macron, who is widely expected to run for reelection in April, has ruled out any lockdown, curfew or additional closure, arguing that heightened vigilance around social distancing, coupled with a swift recall campaign, would suffice. to keep surges in check.
In one televised interview On Wednesday evening, Mr Macron said it was likely that additional Covid-19 boosters would be needed in the future.