French summer holidays have been thrown into chaos as ministers announced they would reimpose rules requiring fully vaccinated Britons to quarantine.
All tourists arriving back from the country from Monday will have to isolate at home for up to 10 days, reversing plans for an exemption for those who have had two shots. It comes amid mounting concern over the spread of the beta, previously known as the South African, variant, and fears it may be more resistant to the current vaccines.
The announcement, which comes amid the end of school term getaway and just 48 hours before all legal Covid-19 restrictions are lifted in England, is likely to throw holiday plans for tens of thousands of people into disarray.
Under the new system, dubbed "Amber plus", there is also no way for Britons already in France to escape the change in policy this weekend, as the existing requirement for all travellers to self-isolate at home on return from all amber list countries remains in place until Monday.
For all other amber list countries apart from France, after the weekend double jabbed travellers will avoid self-isolating on their return to the UK, although they will still have to fill in a passenger locator form and take a Covid-19 test whilst abroad and also two days after they get home.
Amber list arrivals are able to halve their time in quarantine if they opt to take a test on day five and test negative.
On Friday night, the Government confirmed that arrivals from France would still be able to be released from quarantine on day five under test and release.
People travelling through France by train from other amber list European countries, such as Belgium, may still be able to avoid quarantine, although this will be subject to "specific arrangements" being made by operators.
Existing exemptions for key workers, such as hauliers, will also remain in place.
Change comes despite secret diplomatic push
The announcement threatens to undermine a secret diplomatic push to persuade foreign countries to drop quarantine requirements for double-vaccinated Britons in time for August, which can be revealed today by The Telegraph.
It is also likely to trigger a fresh backlash from the aviation and travel industry, which has been left reeling by the decision on Wednesday to move the Balearic Islands back on to the amber list only a fortnight after they turned green.
It came as official figures from Public Health England (PHE) released on Friday saw cases top 50,000 for the first time since January.
The daily death total was 49, with 717 people admitted to hospital with Covid-19. Currently, there are 551 people in hospital on ventilators, the highest level since March.
While France’s daily cases remain significantly below the UK’s, health officials have become increasingly alarmed at the prevalence of the beta variant in the country.
Beta doubling in France
The latest publicly available data from Public Health France show the prevalence of the beta variant in France has almost doubled in the space of a fortnight.
Around 15 per cent of Covid-19 cases in France are now the beta variant, according to the research, which is based on coronavirus cases sequenced on June 22
This is the highest it has been since Public Health France’s surveys started, and marks a rise from around eight per cent in the previous week.
While the delta variant is becoming the dominant strain across much of Europe, medics and scientists are particularly concerned about beta because it is believed to be more resistant to vaccines.
A number of studies have suggested that the beta variant reduces the efficacy of the existing vaccines – including Oxford-AstraZeneca – to varying degrees, although health experts are still said to be unsure to what extent.
The pace of the UK’s vaccination roll-out is slowing
Despite the last-minute U-turn on France, The Telegraph has learnt that a push has been launched to persuade other foreign countries to allow double-vaccinated British tourists to travel without restrictions this summer.
Ambassadors in European capitals, as well as further afield, have been lobbying governments to accept NHS Covid “passports” and scrap the need for quarantine, self-isolation or multiple tests.
Digital Covid Certificate
There could also be good news for Britons living in EU countries as The Telegraph understands the Government is edging closer to accepting the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate, meaning inbound travellers would no longer have to self-isolate if they have been jabbed.
Sources say the main obstacle to vaccinated Britons being able to go on holiday is now technology, rather than politics, with many foreign governments keen to welcome UK tourists, on whom they depend for a large slice of their economy.
Russia, South Africa and Indonesia have been hard hit by delta
Britain has offered its expertise to foreign border agencies to help them read NHS digital vaccination certificates which tourists can download on to their mobile phone.
Visiting those countries will only be practical, however, if NHS certification can be used to bypass the requirement to self-isolate in the foreign country.
Vaccine passports, which take the form of a QR code, are available via the NHS app, and are already accepted by some countries, including Spain, France and Greece, though those countries still require proof of a negative test before travel.
Countries which do not currently recognise the NHS Covid certificates include Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. However, ministers face an uphill struggle to open up international travel due to Britain’s surging case rates, with Bulgaria just announcing a ban on UK travellers, with only Bulgarian nationals, long-term residents and their immediate family members eligible to enter.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “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.”