On August 15 the UK imposed a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone travelling to the country from France, while its foreign office (FCO) announced that it was advising against all-but-essential travel to France.
France has recorded an increasing number of new coronavirus cases recently. In the past 24 hours, the country registered 4,586 new cases, continuing an upward trend that has been ongoing since the beginning of August.
How does the UK decide which countries should be on the ‘quarantine list’?
It is not entirely clear how this is decided, although the government is advised on the matter by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC), which “brings together the UK’s leading data analysis and epidemiological expertise with the aim of ensuring that outbreaks of coronavirus are detected and brought under control quickly,” the government’s website states.
It takes into consideration a country’s number of Covid-19 cases per population, trends in incidence and deaths, the transmission status of the virus and information on a country’s testing capacity, the BBC reported.
How do France, the UK and Portugal compare?
Travel expert Paul Charles, CEO of tourism consultancy PC Agency, is quoted by UK media as understanding the rationale behind the UK government’s decisions on quarantine. He has said that the key figures the UK is looking at are the numbers of cases per 100,000 in a country, recorded by an EU body, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
“Any figure over 20 per 100,000 for a period of seven days is a cause for alarm for the government,” he said.
The ECDC shows that France’s 14-day cumulative number of Covid-19 cases per 100,000 is 51.0. The UK’s is 21.2.
Portugal, now on the UK’s safe travel list, recorded 28.5. This suggests that France will not need to wait until it is below 20 cases per 100,000 before it finds itself back on the UK’s safe travel list. However, it also shows that France is still far from having similar new infection levels to the UK.
As for the 14-day cumulative number of Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 people, the countries have similar rates. France recorded 0.3, the UK 0.2 and Portugal 0.4, ECDC figures show.
In terms of tests, France is behind the UK and Portugal. Statistics website Worldometers states that the UK is leading the way out of the three countries for tests per million people. The UK has carried out a total of 15,177,265 tests, or 223,403 per million people. Portugal has carried out a total of 1,896,675 tests, or 186,088 tests per million people, while France has recorded a total of 6 million tests, or 91,892 per million people.
The UK's ambassador to France Edward Llewellyn told Connexion recently that the UK is keeping a close eye on every country, and analysing the data on a daily basis to see which countries should be on the safe list.
“The transport secretary has said he expects a country’s figures to be moving in the right direction for at least two weeks before considering a change, but obviously we all need to keep a very close eye on these figures,” Lord Llewellyn said.
“The overriding priority is beating this virus and preventing a new round of infection taking hold. That is the absolute dominant consideration for the British government,” he added.
France’s coronavirus cases have been steadily increasing throughout August and that trend looks set to continue. France then will first have to get its cases under control and then keep it that way for at least two weeks before the UK considers adding it to its safe list again.
It is unlikely then that there will be quarantine-free travel for people in France going to the UK for some time. In the meantime, France may introduce its own reciprocal quarantine measures on people arriving from the UK.
French minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune tweeted on August 13 that there would be reciprocal measures in response to the UK’s quarantine measures. However, since then the French government has made no announcement, leading to confusion.