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Our priority is to slow the virus and save lives

The British Ambassador to France Ed Llewellyn, speaks to Connexion about the unprecedented challenges as France and the UK face up to Covid-19.

“THIS is something none of us has ever lived through before,” British Ambassador to France Edward Llewellyn said. 

“It’s a very difficult, uncertain and challenging time for everybody, including for France and for British citizens living here.

“We all need to follow the French authorities’ rules – they put very clear measures in place.

“If you’re going out to do your shopping or for one of the other specific purposes, you should have an attestation with you. 

“We’ve been using our social media to amplify the message from the French and we advise people follow us [@UKinFrance on Twitter and British Embassy Paris on Facebook] as well as checking regularly the British government's travel advice for France.”

The ambassador said that while there were differences in British and French responses to the virus, they have the same purpose – to slow its spread.

“Britain has announced the closure of schools and social distancing for over-70s for the next 12 weeks. There are very firm things being done there as well. 

“But every day sees a new situation and the number of cases is growing in France and the UK.

“Everybody’s priority is to slow the pace of the virus and to protect people and save as many lives as possible.

“So the advice both governments are giving, about the vital importance of washing hands again and again, and social distancing – those are the things that will really make a difference.”

Lord Llewellyn said he had no update about the possible extension of the confinement measures but remains in close touch with the French authorities. He added: “The British government would not advise people to travel to France [from the UK] at the moment unless for essential reasons. And once you’re in this country, if you are stopped by police, you would need a reason as to why you are not at home that meets one of the very limited criteria.”

Asked to confirm that it would not be advisable to come simply for a holiday or to visit a second home, he reiterated: “No, we wouldn’t recommend people come to France for anything other than essential travel – essential reasons – for now.”

That would not, however, include French residents returning to their homes in France, he confirmed. Lord Llewellyn said he was aware of the French prime minister’s remarks about possible additional travel restrictions from the UK (see above) if Britain did not implement confinement measures.

However, he said the UK does have “strong measures” in place, which are “firmly based on the scientific advice the government is receiving”.

He noted that in existing cases of extra border restrictions, such as between France and Germany, this does not apply to residents of those countries going home.

Connexion has heard from many readers with specific concerns, such as those wanting to move to France to live. 

In one case, a reader had sold a UK property and bought one in France with a view to moving imminently. 

Lord Llewellyn said the British consular service might be able to advise, but the general advice remains that “now is not a good time to be travelling”.

As for Britons who are visiting non-EU countries and who may be facing problems getting home, he said they should do their best to buy ordinary return transport, though it is becoming more difficult. In urgent cases, they can contact a British consulate in the country, he said.

The ambassador said there was no news of any extension to the Brexit transition period due to Covid-19. “The government was asked about that this week and it pointed out that the period is now set out in British law.”

It is “completely understandable” that many people feel worried at this time, he said.

“Everybody shares those worries, but our embassy is working completely on this. Its total focus is helping British citizens in this country and working closely with the French government to do everything we can to deal with this extraordinary and very worrying situation of this invisible killer.”

Those running businesses were also facing worries, he said. “The British government has put in place a lot of support at home for businesses, and the French have a similar package on the table here. 
“An enormous effort is going in by both sides to help businesses and our economies.”

He added: “I would like to add that I am sure every British citizen in France, like me, has huge admiration for the work the French health authorities and doctors and nurses and other health professionals are doing right across the country. 

“The images you see in the most affected parts of France are incredibly moving, as were the images we saw of people going on to their balconies and cheering them at 20.00. 

“It was a feeling of strong support and solidarity and admiration that we all share that I wish to express as British ambassador at this vital moment in the life of this country and all our countries.”

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