Airlines and holiday firms have warned the sudden change to UK quarantine rules on travel to France is a “devastating blow” to the industry and will lead to job losses.
France was removed from the government’s list of travel corridor destinations late on Thursday night along with the Netherlands, Malta and others. The move takes effect from 4am on Saturday.
At least 100,000 British holidaymakers are thought to be in France and many more will have planned to travel there later this summer.
Airlines UK, which represents the biggest carriers operating out of the country, said the decision was “another devastating blow to the travel industry already reeling from the worst crisis in its history”.
It urged the government to bring in a new testing regime and change its approach to quarantine to end its “broad-brush, weekly stop-and-go changes to travel corridors at a national level, which have proven so disruptive to airlines and passengers alike”.
The travel association Abta said the news would result in livelihoods being lost unless the government could help the industry. A spokesman said: “The announcements relating to Spain and now France impact the two biggest destinations for British holidaymakers at the height of the summer season. At this time of recession, a plan is urgently needed to protect the 221,000 jobs the travel industry sustains.”
The London-based World Travel & Tourism Council accused the UK of “lagging behind other countries” in imposing quarantine rather than better testing measures, saying: “While we agree public health should remain the top priority, this move will crush what little confidence there is left in the fragile travel and tourism sector.”
The British Ports Association said it was “extremely disappointing news” that would cause much disruption and hit passenger operators hard. Globally, the pandemic has already cost the travel industry close to £250bn between January and May, three times the industry’s total bill for the global financial crisis of 2008, according to figures from the UN World Tourism Organization.
Foreign Office travel advice warns against non-essential travel to France, which has reported a 66% rise in new coronavirus cases, and the Netherlands.
The consumer association Which? said thousands of customers following that advice were likely to be left significantly out of pocket, with some airlines refusing to issue refunds if outbound flights continue operating.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, who himself was forced into quarantine when Spain was taken off the travel corridor list at the start of his holiday almost three weeks ago, defended the system and the sudden change to the rules on France.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “With a 66% increase in the last week, we must act. There is no perfect way to do this. People will have gone away knowing there is a significant risk; with their eyes open. A lot of people will have amended their holidays or already come home.”
He said temperature checks on asymptomatic travellers would pick up only 7% of cases: “There isn’t such a clear-cut solution as people would imagine.”
Labour said it backed evidence-based measures but Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, added: “It’s vital that the government has a joined-up strategy and recognises the impact of this on travel-related businesses. It is vital that a sector-specific deal is put in place urgently.”
Eurotunnel advised people not to arrive at the Calais shuttle terminal without a booking, because it was already at capacity for the weekend and queues and disruption would result. Ports also warned of “logistical challenges” as people scrambled to return by ferry. Ferry operators DFDS and P&O said there was a huge increase in demand and urged passengers to rebook crossings online rather than turn up, although they said they would make some additional capacity available.
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