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France and UK ease travel rules as Omicron spreads in both countries

The French government announced yesterday that the list of compelling reasons for travel from the UK would be expanded

French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal announced yesterday that the list of essential reasons for travel from the UK would be expanded Pic: Halfpoint / Shutterstock

[Update January 6 at 16:50 - You can find further details of the updated list in our article here]

The French and UK governments have both announced an easing of restrictions for people travelling between the two countries, as the Omicron variant establishes itself as the dominant variant on either side of the Channel.

The French government announced yesterday (January 5) that the list of essential reasons for travel from the UK imposed under current rules would be expanded, but no further details have yet been released on this subject.  

This came as the UK government confirmed that pre-departure tests would be scrapped for vaccinated travellers to England, who would no longer have to self-isolate on arrival and whose day two test could be, as previously, a lateral flow rather than a PCR test.  

What has France announced? 

French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said that a decision had been taken “to enlarge the list of essential reasons for coming from the UK to France, notably professional reasons,” during yesterday’s Conseil de défense sanitaire meeting. 

Read more: Essential reasons list for visiting France from UK to be extended

“And we have decided that at the next Conseil de défense we will consider whether we can entirely remove the restrictions put in place at the border with the UK.”

However, he did not add when the new list of essential reasons would be published or when the next Conseil de défense sanitaire would be, and there has been no update to the Interior Ministry website as yet.

The Connexion has contacted the French consulate for further information on the publication of the new expanded list. 

UK government eases travel testing requirements 

The UK government has confirmed that fully vaccinated travellers to England* would no longer need to take a pre-departure Covid test as of 04:00 on Friday, January 7. 

From January 9, fully vaccinated arrivals will not have to quarantine while they wait for the result of their day two test, which will also no longer have to be a PCR.

Instead, cheaper lateral flow tests will once again be permitted. These can be booked from Friday, January 7.

“I’ve always said that we won’t keep international travel restrictions in place any longer than they are necessary to protect public health,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. 

“That’s why we’re removing the temporary, extra testing measures we introduced for Omicron in November, making travel easier and cheaper for fully vaccinated passengers and providing a big boost for the travel industry as we enter the peak new year booking period.”

Unvaccinated travellers must continue to take a pre-departure test, a PCR test on or before day two and on or after day eight and self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in the UK. 

A person is considered to be fully vaccinated for international travel to the UK if they received their final dose of an approved vaccine more than 14 days before. Booster doses are not a compulsory requirement. 

“We are very pleased to hear that both governments are looking at reducing the level of testing on travellers,” a spokesperson for Getlink, the company which owns Eurotunnel, told The Connexion. 

“The tests and restrictions imposed on travel by governments have had a significant impact on traffic, especially over the summer and Christmas periods. 

“Given the similar levels of infection in France and the UK, there is no justification for restricting travel between the two countries.”

The relaxation of testing rules means that a British person visiting in France single will normally save at least €22 on an antigen test taken in a pharmacy before travelling back to the UK, and then a further £30-40 on their post-arrival day two test. 

Why are restrictions easing when case numbers are high?

France and the UK have taken the decision to ease travel restrictions because both countries are now experiencing similar situations with regards to Covid case numbers and the spread of Omicron, controlling international arrivals becomes less important.

Is it equally thought that, despite being more transmissible, Omicron is less likely to cause serious illness than the Delta variant. 

In the UK, 194,747 new Covid cases were recorded yesterday (January 5), while France reported a record 332,252 new infections. 

The UK government said in a statement published yesterday that: “As data shows Omicron is the dominant variant in the UK and spreading widely in the community it is now proportionate to cautiously reduce testing measures at the borders.”

Mr Shapps also stated today that the current testing system has “outlived its usefulness” as Omicron is now “widespread and worldwide.”

Mr Attal also stated that: “When we observe that the Omicron variant is circulating just as much here as elsewhere, that the situations are truly comparable, we will ease the measures" in place.

Prime Minister Jean Castex has said that Omicron now accounts for 70-80% of Covid infections in France.  

“That means that Delta is still there. We know this variant well and today it is more dangerous than Omicron,” he added. 

Mr Castex also said that he hopes that France’s health pass will be transformed into a vaccine pass by January 15. This, though, is not related to international travel.

Read more: French MPs pass Covid vaccine pass bill on third attempt

The bill “must now pass through the Senate, we hope that they will study the text as quickly as possible.” 

*The same changes have been confirmed by the Scottish government. Wales has the same rules in place, while Northern Ireland requires the day two test to be PCR.

Related stories 

Coronavirus: Daily updates on the situation in France

‘Piss off the unvaccinated’: Not first time Macron’s words cause stir

New Covid variant detected in south of France: what is known about it

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