Quarantine-free travel to France could return as beta variant cases fall

Holidaymakers to France could avoid quarantine on their return after the Government said it wanted to put the country back on the amber list amid a fall in beta variant cases.

George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, signalled the potential U-turn on Friday after the shock decision to put France on an "amber plus" list last week. That move required even double-jabbed travellers to quarantine on their return to the UK.

However, since that decision the proportion of beta variant cases has fallen by two thirds, from nine per cent of all cases to three per cent, according to data from scientific tracking centre Gisaid.

Speaking to LBC on Friday, Mr Eustice said France had been put on the "amber plus" list because of concerns about the beta variant and "the fact that the vaccine might be slightly less effective against that".

But he added: "As those rates come down, obviously the evidence will change and it can be reviewed and we’ll want to be putting countries like France back onto the amber list in the normal way."

Travel countries on the red, green and amber list

Although France’s Covid infection rate is rising, its number of cases at 121 per 100,000 of the population is significantly below Portugal’s 407 and Greece’s 292.

Spain’s rate is 624 and on the increase, raising fears the country could be next to be moved to "amber plus".

Since the Government’s decision, a major study from Canada has shown that the vaccines by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna offer significant protection against beta.

The population-wide research is seen as more reliable than a previous small scale study in South Africa, where the variant originated, which suggested the AstraZeneca jab in particular was vulnerable to it.

The Canadian study found one dose of Astra Zeneca was 48 per cent effective against symptomatic infection by the beta variant, rising to 60 per cent for one dose of Pfizer and 77 per cent for one of Moderna.

The results for preventing hospitalisation rose to 83 per cent for Astra Zeneca, 77 per cent for Pfizer and 89 per cent for Moderna. The researchers have yet to complete double dose checks, but two jabs of Pfizer were 98 per cent effective against hospitalisation.

It is thought unlikely that any decision on France will be taken before the next review of the green, amber and red lists in the week beginning August 2.

Most popular holiday destinations are on the UK’s amber list including Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy, which allows double-jabbed holidaymakers and their children to return without having to self-isolate but means they have to pay for a PCR tests.

It came as an estimated 400,000 holidaymakers took advantage of cut-price foreign breaks and the relaxation of quarantine rules for the double-jabbed to jet off to holiday destinations in Europe.

Tour operators have reported a doubling in the number of Britons going on foreign holidays this weekend compared to last. EasyJet, one the biggest carriers into Europe, said it was up by one third on last weekend, with 135,000 passengers flying on 80 routes to green and amber destinations.

Heathrow Airport expected to handle 60,000 to 65,000 passengers this weekend, about 25 per cent of the pre-pandemic daily volumes of 245,000 in July 2019. Gatwick has forecast 255 flights daily, carrying 26,000 passengers a day, a quarter of the 950 flights pre-pandemic.

Airlines and tour companies have been trying to lure more passengers by slashing prices in the past few weeks, with Ryanair flights to Portugal down from £17 to as low as £7, and EasyJet down from £53 to £21 to the same destination.

Package holidays to green-listed Malta are on average 52 per cent cheaper than before the pandemic, with trips to Spain around 20 per cent less costly, Greece 11 per cent and Portugal 10 per cent, according to the price comparison website Travelsupermarket.com.

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