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French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced tough restrictions will be enforced from Saturday, including a requirement for “compelling reasons” to travel to or from the UK.
Trips for tourism or business will not be permitted, his office said in a statement.
All arrivals will need to provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken less than 24 hours in advance, and must isolate for at least two days.
The statement added: “In the face of the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United Kingdom, the Government has chosen to reinstate compelling reasons for travel to and from the United Kingdom, and to strengthen the requirement for testing on departure and arrival.
“In the UK Government’s own words, the UK will face a ‘tidal wave’ linked to the Omicron variant in the coming days.”
This measures have thrown the Christmas travel plans for hundreds of thousands of people into chaos.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said hauliers will be exempt from the new rules.
He posted on Twitter: “To confirm I have liaised with my French counterpart (Jean-Baptiste Djebbari) and hauliers will remain exempt.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel trade association Abta, described the French travel restrictions as a “hammer blow”.
He said: “The winter sports and school travel markets are particularly exposed, and the Government must now bring forward a support package if we are not to see company failures and job losses.
“The travel and tourism sector has had little chance to generate income since early 2020 and is now faced with another wave of cancellations.”
A spokesman for ferry operator Brittany Ferries said: “In the context of an Omicron variant that is passing through the French population as it is in the UK, further border controls seem as unnecessary as they are unwelcome.”
UK health minister Gillian Keegan said she has had to cancel a skiing trip to France over Christmas due to the rising threat of Omicron.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for her reaction to the French travel restrictions, she said: “My first thought is ‘I’m glad that I cancelled my trip to France’, because that’s where I was supposed to go for Christmas.
“But, of course, every government is dealing with Omicron, every government has to make their decisions and has their response to it. It is obviously going to alter people’s plans, which is very unfortunate.”
The new French measures come as concerns are mounting over the Omicron variant, which is surging in the UK, with daily confirmed Covid-19 cases reaching a record high of 78,610 on Wednesday.
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