France should consider closing borders with UK, says government adviser

Top epidemiologist recommends return to shutdown which caused chaos before Christmas

Adam Forrest
Monday 11 January 2021 11:41
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WHO Europe calls for intensified measures over 'alarming' virus variant

France should consider shutting down its borders with UK because of the rapid spread of coronavirus, a leading French government adviser said on Monday.

Arnaud Fontanet, a member of the scientific council that advises Emmanuel Macron’s government, said borders should be closed to Britain, Ireland and other countries that have a strong presence of the Covid variant found in the south east of England.

“It is important that we consider whether we need to close the borders to a limited number of countries, notably the United Kingdom and Ireland,” Mr Fontanet told BFM television.

“This is certainly a point for the agenda. It is not up to the scientific council to decide this, but we want to raise the issue.”

French authorities said on Sunday that the more infectious variant first found in Kent had now been detected in Marseille and in the French Alps. “The new Covid variant is nearly a new epidemic within the epidemic,” said Mr Fontanet.

France and dozens of countries closed borders to the UK in the days before Christmas after the highly infectious variant was identified – leaving thousands of truck drivers stranded in chaotic scenes across Kent.

Although borders were reopened just before Christmas, France and many other countries have maintained strict travel restrictions on both the UK and South Africa.

Last week France extended its entry ban to travellers from the UK until “further notice”. Only lorry drivers and EU citizens on essential trips – who must show a negative Covid test result from the preceding three days – can travel from the UK.

Boris Johnson’s government has also imposed extra travel curbs, partly due to concerns about the variant discovered in South Africa. From this week, travellers coming into England and Scotland will need to provide a negative Covid test result taken within 72 hours of departure.

Both the UK and South African variants contain mutations including N501Y – an alteration in the spike protein of the virus, which is a target for vaccines.

Mr Fontanet said the new variants were more contagious that the original virus, but that for now there were no signs that the mortality rate was any higher.

The government adviser also said France needed to vaccinate 10 to 15 million people by the end of March and 25 to 30 million people by the end of June in order to get the epidemic under control.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s European branch has called for measures to be ramped up in response to the spread of the variant. Dr Hans Kluge said the region faced a “tipping-point in the course of the pandemic”.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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