The last-minute announcement that fully vaccinated travellers returning to England from France will continue to have to quarantine from Monday has caused “mass confusion”, a travel expert has said.
Gemma Antrobus, of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, said the travel industry had not expected the step taken by the government on Friday evening amid concern over the spread of the Beta coronavirus variant in France.
She told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: “This new level of traffic light, this fifth traffic light that we now have – amber-plus – wasn’t something that’s ever been mentioned, so nobody expected this to come.
“So really the travel industry are in as much shock as the consumers are right now, and really we would just have to pick up the pieces and deal with it and help our clients through this pretty terrible situation.”
Britons in France have spoken of their “frustration” after discovering they will still need to quarantine for 10 days and take two tests after returning to England, despite the requirement being lifted on arrivals from all other amber list countries if someone is double-jabbed or under 18.
Meanwhile, France is adapting its border measures to require non-vaccinated travellers arriving from the UK, Cyprus, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands and Portugal to complete an antigen or PCR test less than 24 hours before departure.
‘This is about reuniting families’
Antrobus estimated “hundreds of thousands” of people may be affected by the change, including people who were waiting to see family members.
She added: “We mustn’t forget that this is not just about travelling for leisure purposes, this is also about reuniting families, who again will now have to wait months, possibly longer, before they can do so in a way that is free for them to return (and) not have to self-isolate.”
Travel industry body Abta said the last minute exclusion of France was a further setback for hopes of a “meaningful recovery” for the sector.
EasyJet chief Johan Lundgren said it “pulls the rug” from under people who were already in France or had booked holidays there.
Antrobus said the industry had just started to gain some “consumer confidence” but this had been “completely squashed” by the France announcement, which “proves that something can come out of nowhere at the very last minute”.
She said people will “make the decision on what’s best for them” over travelling from Monday, and suggested that France may not have been placed on the government’s red list due to the number of entry and exits points from the UK making hotel quarantine logistics “impossible”.
She added: “I do think that it just doesn’t help with the number of entry and exit points to France, and it’s possibly why France didn’t go directly on to a red list, because of those different entry and exit points – being able to take Eurostar across on the train, being able to go from the ferry ports, and also being able to fly.
“The ability to put in hotel quarantines at those points or arrange logistics around them is possibly the reason why it didn’t hit red straight away, because it’s just going to be logistically impossible to do that by Monday.”
‘Give us our freedom back’
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, a membership organisation for independent travel businesses, said the traffic light system should be scrapped and that the government “has to give us our freedom back”.
He said: “The last few government announcements are a catastrophe for the travel industry. Creating confusion and worry not of the virus but in customers’ fear of their freedom being restricted on return from travel.
“People want and need to travel. Customers are not scared of the risks. The vast majority are no longer at high risk of this disease because we are jabbed or we are young. The most vulnerable are more protected from this risk than many others we don’t protect them from.”
Lewis said coronavirus variants should be monitored but were “inevitable”, with vaccines able to “stay ahead” of them, as with the flu.
“Scrap this traffic light system, monitor variants and ensure everyone is double jabbed. Allow our travel industry to trade,” he said.
“If not, then the need for financial support for the overseas travel sector until we have had a period of unrestricted trading is beyond critical.”
Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tourism Association, described the government’s late changes to quarantine rules as “abrupt” but “hardly surprising”.
“This government really specialises in abrupt changes of policy but people who are describing shock and dismay really should have got used to this sort of thing occurring,” he told Times Radio.
Jenkins added that guidance was “vague” but that disruption caused by changing policy was “nothing like” the damage already caused to the tourism industry by the pandemic.
He said: “We’re having a conversation about worry, yes there is an unknown out there… but I’m much more concerned that the discussion revolves entirely around the need to go on holiday, and I work for the tourism industry.
“This is a huge disruption but it’s nothing like the damage which is occurring to the UK from no visitors.”