Covid: France bans non-essential travel from UK

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Customers enjoy a lunch on the terrace of a beach restaurant in Nice, FranceImage source, Reuters
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France has lifted more coronavirus restrictions in recent weeks

France has become the latest European country to introduce restrictions on UK tourists due to the spread of the Indian coronavirus variant.

The French government has announced that from 31 May only essential travel from the UK will be allowed. A week's self-isolation is also required.

Germany imposed a two-week quarantine on UK arrivals last week. Austria has banned direct UK flights from 1 June.

By last week, the UK had recorded 3,424 cases of the B.1.617.2 variant.

That number had risen by 2,111 cases from the previous week.

England's chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, has said the Indian variant is "more transmittable" than the UK variant first identified in Kent, which was responsible for the UK's deadly wave of coronavirus infections this winter.

"We expect, over time, this variant to overtake and come to dominate in the UK," he said.

However, a study earlier this week found that two injections of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines offered a similar level of protection against symptomatic disease from the Indian variant as from the Kent one. But protection after a first dose was lower in the Indian variant compared with the Kent variant, with 33% and 50% effectiveness respectively.

France, Germany and Austria are all on England's "amber" list, meaning that the government advises against travel there and passengers must quarantine upon return.

However, France had planned to allow fully vaccinated travellers from the UK - or those who had tested negative - to visit from 9 June, when travel restrictions around the EU are set to be eased. The decision to allow only essential travel, for example for bereavement or childcare, from 31 May is a setback to anyone in the UK who had planned to go on holiday in France.

UK travellers to France are already required to self-isolate in a designated hotel for seven days, but tighter quarantine restrictions, such as proof of quarantine location and possible police checks, will not be imposed.

Spain, another amber country, has already reopened to UK tourists.

Last week, the EU agreed on a pass to allow travel across the bloc's 27 countries for all those who have been fully vaccinated with an approved vaccine, recently tested negative or recovered from an infection. It is expected to launch by July.