With spiralling rates of infection across the Channel in the U.K. due to the new Omicron variant, France closed its borders Friday 18 December at 11pm between both countries in a move that flattened the travel industry’s hopes for the ski season and put paid to many people’s Christmas travel plans.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex warned, as reported by the BBC, that Omicron is “spreading at lightning speed” in Europe. Here’s what you need to know.
France is on high alert–Covid plans reinitiated
With rates rising on a daily basis across France, the government has reinitiated many Covid-19 restrictions from earlier in 2021. As reported by The New York Times, there are almost 3,000 Covid-19 patients in intensive care across France, which is the most since June.
Many regions have reactivated Le Plan Blanc for their hospitals, which puts them on a state of high alert, cancels non-essential procedures and lets them bring in more staff to cope. Pharmacies are now allowed to open on Sundays to administer jabs, school pupils are back to wearing masks at all times and, as reported by France 24, all nightclubs have been forced to close for four weeks over the Christmas and New Year period.
Over 65s rush to get boosters
The country is currently using the Pass Sanitaire (its health passport) which is its version of the EU digital Covid Certificate that allows free travel across borders. Many EU countries, such as France, also use the system to allow entry to restaurants, bars, cafes and cultural spaces, such as cinemas.
As of this week, rules were changed in that the health pass will no longer be valid without a booster to people aged over 65–many have rushed to become inoculated a third time. This rule will be extended to all age groups from mid January–meaning that the only other option to keep the Pass Sanitaire valid without a booster, is to be tested every 24 hours.
French President Emmanuel Macron is facing a tough reelection campaign and has vowed to the country that it will not be put in another lockdown or face further restrictions.
Travelers from the U.K. must have an “essential reason” to travel
Travelers from the U.K. must have a compelling reason to travel, which does not include business or tourism reasons, as reported by Sky News. And this is true for all travelers, regardless of vaccination status.
For those people who can travel, because they have a compelling reason, they must take a pre-departure PCR test 24 hours before arriving in France, they must register where they are to stay, test again on arrival and isolate for at least 48 hours until they have a negative Covid-19 test result–otherwise they must quarantine for ten days.
French residents, nationals and hauliers are unaffected by the new rules. There were long queues in Friday as many people tried to make it into the country for Christmas before the ban came into effect.
Non-EU arrivals must test, regardless of vaccination
As of 4 December, anyone arriving from the EU/Schengen area will only need to take a test if they are not vaccinated (taken up to 24 hours before arrival).
However, everyone must now test if they arrive from outside the EU+ bloc, even if they are vaccinated (including U.K. and Canadian travelers). These tests must be PCR (some antigen tests are allowed) and taken no more than 48 hours before arrival.
Countries have been color-coded due to risk levels and most unvaccinated travelers, depending on where they are traveling from, must have an essential reason for travel to be allowed into the country.