France on Wednesday reported 2,524 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, a post-lockdown record, as British officials prepared to decide whether to add the country to its quarantine list.
But Boris Johnson’s government is not expected to immediately announce on Thursday that British travellers to France must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return, in a welcome development for British holidaymakers. When the UK’s travel regime is reviewed on Thursday, French officials expect Matt Hancock, the health secretary, to say he is closely monitoring the situation in France, but that new travel restrictions would be premature.
Malta and the Netherlands, which have higher infection rates than France, are regarded as more likely to be added to Britain’s list. It already includes the popular holiday destinations of Spain and Portugal. After Spain, France is the UK’s second most visited destination, attracting more than 10m visitors last year. In spite of the latest health data from France, British and French officials are not expecting quarantine restrictions to be imposed immediately. Paris has indicated that, if the UK acts, it will impose a reciprocal voluntary quarantine regime for people travelling to France from Britain.
The travel industry expects the government to give 30 hours notice to travellers before adding a country to the list. When Belgium was added on Thursday last week, the new rule took effect at 4am on Saturday. The government reviews the list of countries that it considers a risk every seven days using benchmarks including the number of cases, quality of testing, health infrastructure and reliability of reporting by each country.
France recorded 30.4 cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, compared with the Netherlands’ 37.9 and Malta’s 61.6. The UK rate was 18.2. The UK government declined to comment on its quarantine policy. Having removed its advice against international travel to most countries in Europe, the Foreign Office came under fire last month when it made an eleventh-hour decision to quarantine returning travellers from Spain with six hours notice. Paul Charles, an independent adviser to the travel sector, said that the industry could not survive the continual “in and out” of quarantine measures “because it doesn’t make consumers confident”.
The Association of British Travel Agents, the trade body, said that, instead of introducing blanket bans on countries, it was lobbying for a more targeted approach, where the government would advise against travel to specific areas where cases had spiked. It added that, for the package holiday industry, the addition of Malta to the list was more of a concern than France, because France largely attracted second-home owners and independent travellers.
Jean Castex, France’s prime minister, on Tuesday called for “extending as much as possible the obligatory wearing of masks in public places” to reduce the high risk of a surge of the pandemic that has killed more than 30,000 people in the country since March. Masks are required in indoor public places nationwide, and local authorities have increasingly imposed the rule outdoors in crowded streets and markets.
Mr Castex also announced that the national ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people would run at least until the end of October. The Paris marathon scheduled for November 15 has been cancelled. President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter after a meeting of the security cabinet in the middle of the summer holiday: “The epidemic doesn’t take holidays. It’s essential to remain vigilant and respect antivirus measures. Remain careful!”