Three more reasons why UK quarantine rule for France is flawed

Why is Réunion amber and mainland France amber-plus if Réunion is the issue? We look at why the UK’s travel listing for mainland France does not make sense

30 July 2021
By Liv Rowland

Why the UK has singled out mainland ‘metropolitan’ France for a 10-day quarantine rule, as opposed to its overseas region Réunion, cited as the actual cause of concern, and listed separately in the UK’s travel listing, is far from clear.

Réunion is amber in the UK list while mainland France is ‘amber plus’.

Yesterday Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “The evidence that was presented on which the original [amber plus listing] decision was taken was based on the prevalence of the Beta variant, in particular in the Réunion bit of France”. 

Fully-vaccinated British residents returning from visits to ‘amber’ countries are free from quarantine and need take only one paid-for Covid test after arrival, not two.

This will be extended from Monday August 2 to amber-country visitors vaccinated in the EU and US. All EU countries are now amber, apart from France, which remains ‘amber plus’ meaning quarantine and two tests are maintained for everyone, supposedly because of ‘amber’ Reunion.

The listing is not expected to change until, at the earliest, the week starting August 9 after the next ‘traffic light review’.

We contacted the UK’s foreign office to try to find out the reason for the anomaly. It told us to contact the Department for Transport as the traffic light travel scheme was its domain. However the latter was not able to say why Réunion is amber and France amber-plus.

A government source later said the reason was probably linked to the fact that people would travel via mainland France to get to the UK from Réunion.

Under the UK’s rules, someone who made a connecting flight in Paris without leaving the airport could be seen as ‘having been in [mainland] France’ for purposes of the UK’s quarantine rules, unless they attest that no new passengers joined the onward flight to the UK and no one mingled with any new people outside the planes.

So it is correct that travelling from Réunion to the UK via a mainland airport could potentially make a person liable to the ‘amber plus’ rules.

However these points remain unanswered:

1: Why not just single out Réunion and make it amber plus and not involve mainland France?

Beta and Gamma (‘Brazilian’) variants combined are now estimated to make up 2.7% of cases in the whole of France, according to the latest data from Santé Publique France. 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows Greece to have more prevalence of Beta than France, and a number of other EU countries, including Italy and Belgium, to be similar to France (Spain was previously reported to be higher than France but has not provided data for the latest update). 

Gisad, a service monitoring variants which the UK reports using as a key resource, puts sequenced cases reported to it in the last four weeks at 0.8% of the Beta variant in mainland France, compared to, for example, 13.6% for Spain.

While the prevalence of Beta is still much higher in Réunion, why not make Réunion ‘amber plus’ instead of the mainland?

The UK's travel rules require those arriving to state where they have been in the last 10 days, so this would have picked up those coming via mainland France from the island without penalising those who have not been there.

2: In any case, ‘no-one is travelling from Réunion to the UK’

We spoke to two travel agents in Réunion.

An advisor at Thomas Cook – Voyages Réunion – Stainte Clotilde confirmed that if they were to make a booking to the UK, it would go via mainland France - however she said: “At the moment we have no demand for the UK, only for flights to metropolitan France.”

A second agency, Alizoa Voyages, said it would under usual circumstances organise flights to the UK both via mainland France and by nearby [amber-listed] Mauritius. She said it is hard to say which is more common, however, it is “complicated via Mauritius” at present due to strict health restrictions, which include having to book into a hotel and quarantine there.

However, she said: “Nobody is reserving flights to the UK at the moment.”

A Facebook group for people from Réunion who live in the UK posted on our behalf to ask members if anyone has recently been back to the island from the UK, for a return trip. No one confirmed having done so.

3. Réunion is now more concerned about Delta variant than Beta

The UK is concerned about levels of the Beta variant in Réunion, but the island itself reports that growing cases of Delta – prevalent in the UK – are now the bigger concern. The proportion of Beta cases has significantly dropped from almost 100% of sequenced tests earlier this year to around two-thirds of cases, compared to a third of Delta.

Earlier this week the prefecture of Réunion announced a semi-lockdown from this weekend saying: “The health situation is deteriorating rapidly. The Delta variant is seeing a sharp increase.”

Read more

UK minister’s statement on France Covid quarantine and Réunion flawed 

EU, US visitors can skip UK quarantine – but France is excluded 

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