LONDON Hundreds of thousands of British holidaymakers on Friday faced the prospect of having to go into self-isolation for 14 days when they return home after the British government reimposed quarantine restrictions on France following a recent pick-up in coronavirus infections.
In an announcement late Thursday, the government said France is being removed from the list of nations exempted from quarantine requirements because of rising coronavirus infections, which have surged by 66% in the past week. The Netherlands, Malta, Monaco and the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Turks & Caicos are also being added to the quarantine list.
The requirement to spend 14 days in self-isolation will apply to anyone returning to the U.K. after 4 a.m. local time on Saturday, a timeframe that may prompt many particularly those who cannot work from home to try to return before then.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the decision shouldn't have come as a big surprise given that the government has consistently said it will continue to monitor infection rates when assessing its list of safe countries.
"Unfortunately, this virus doesn't play ball," he told Sky News. "So people will look at their own situations. I think a lot of people would have been aware that this was a possibility in France and in some of these other countries."
Any rush back is likely to be most prominent in France, the second-most popular holiday destination for British tourists after Spain, which was put on the quarantine list last month. Travel companies are urging anyone considering a swift return home to check whether they will be able to do so.
Getlink, which operates the Channel Tunnel rail service linking Britain and France, warned travelers that they may not be able to get back in time as services are heavily booked.
John Keefe, Getlink's director of public affairs, told the BBC that trains were "already pretty much fully booked" on Friday.
He said there was "some possibility of adding additional trains in the off-peak periods" but insisted that would-be travelers have to check online before heading to the terminal.
While the number of new infections in Britain is also rising, they are not thought to be increasing at the same pace as in the countries added to the quarantine list. The latest 14-day cumulative figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show 32.1 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in France, compared with 18.5 in the U.K.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday that everyone "understands that in a pandemic you don't allow our population to be re-infected or the disease to come back in."
The decision is a big blow to France's tourism industry, which is heavily reliant on tourists from Britain.
France's junior minister for European affairs, Clement Beaune, indicated that that France would respond in kind.
He said in a tweet that this is "a British decision that we regret and which will prompt a reciprocity measure, in the hope to get back to normal as soon as possible."
The U.K.'s quarantine approach has been criticized by many travel companies, some of whom are urging a change of tack, such as a ramp-up in testing of all arrivals in the country.
Shapps said that proposal "isn't quite as straightforward as it sounds" because many people may not test positive for the virus at the point of arrival but may end up doing so a few days later.
"You need to have a system which is more accurate than that before you can say to people you've now been tested and you don't need to quarantine," he said.