Less than 60 hours before international travel is due to become easier for vaccinated British travellers, France is to be left out of the scheme.
Hundreds of thousands of travellers who were hoping for quarantine-free travel back from France have had their hopes dashed.
Fears about the “beta variant” of coronavirus have led ministers to create a new category for incoming travellers: “amber plus”.
Unlike the regular amber list, from 4am on Monday arrivals from France must quarantine in their own accommodation for 10 days and complete two PCR tests, regardless of vaccination status.
The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “We have always been clear that we will not hesitate to take rapid action at our borders to stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the gains made by our successful vaccination programme.
“With restrictions lifting on Monday across the country, we will do everything we can to ensure international travel is conducted as safely as possible, and protect our borders from the threat of variants.”
The UK Health Security Agency chief executive, Dr Jenny Harries, said: “As we ease restrictions and begin making our way back to a normal life, it’s more vital than ever that we listen to the data and act decisively when it changes.
“While vaccines are helping us turn the tables against this virus, we need to continue to proceed cautiously. That means maintaining our defences against new variants and protecting our hard won progress through the exceptional vaccination rollout.”
France is second only to Spain in terms of British visits, and is home to hundreds of thousands of UK expatriates and property owners.
Many people booked trips to France after the government announced on 8 July that vaccinated travellers need not self-isolate for arrivals from amber list countries from 4am on 19 July.
The reversal of that policy for France has caused dismay for cross-Channel operators and airlines, who were hoping to cash in on demand for school holiday trips and family visits.
“This will ruin summer for many people,” said John Keefe of Eurotunnel, which runs the Shuttle operation for cars between Folkestone and Calais.
“It is disappointing that the government has cancelled the option of quarantine-free travel for double-vaccinated parents and their families so close to the school holidays and so soon after they had confirmed that travel to France was safe.”
The chief executive of easyJet, Johan Lundgren, said the government’s “traffic light system” for international risk management was falling apart.
He accused the government of “making it up as they go along and causing confusion and uncertainty”.
Mr Lundgren said: “It is not backed up by the science or transparent data and this move pulls the rug out from under our customers who have already travelled to France or who are booked to travel there and so it is them I feel for.”
A spokesperson for Abta, the travel association, said: “This announcement will undoubtedly dent consumer confidence in overseas travel just as we are about to see many amber-listed countries opening up for UK visitors in time for the summer holidays.
“Continuing changes to travel restrictions will delay any meaningful recovery for the industry.”
It may be that other popular destinations, perhaps including Cyprus and some other Mediterranean islands with high infection rates, are moved to the same amber-plus category.
The alternative considered by ministers was for France to be assigned to the red list – but it is believed the system of hotel quarantine would not have been able to cope with the numbers of arriving travellers.
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