France is introducing tougher rules for travellers from the UK in an attempt to counter the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.
From midnight on Friday, people arriving from Britain will be required to show a negative Covid test that is less than 24 hours old, to test again upon arrival and self-isolate for seven days, although that can be reduced to 48 hours if the second test is negative.
In a statement, the office of French Prime Minister Jean Castex said: “In the face of the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United Kingdom, the Government has chosen to reinstate compelling reasons for travel to and from the United Kingdom, and to strengthen the requirement for testing on departure and arrival.
“In the UK Government’s own words, the UK will face a ‘tidal wave’ linked to the Omicron variant in the coming days.”
Travellers will need a “compelling reason” to travel to or from the UK, though that does not apply to French nationals and their spouses and children, the statement says.
“These compelling reasons do not include tourism or business reasons,” it continues.
“Vaccinated people must present a negative test (PCR or TAG) of less than 24 hours, which is in line with the rules already in place for unvaccinated people.”
Travellers from the UK must “register, prior to their trip, on a digital platform and provide the address of their stay in France”.
They must then “isolate in a place of their choosing”, and the “quarantine may be lifted after 48 hours, subject to proof of a negative test”.
The statement adds: “Controls will be organised to ensure the proper implementation of these measures.
“The Government also calls on travellers who had planned to visit the United Kingdom to postpone their travel.”
French government spokesman Gabriel Attal earlier told BFM television: “We will put in place a system of controls drastically tighter than the one we have today.
“We will reduce the validity of the test to come to France from 48 hours to 24 hours.
“We will limit the reasons for coming to France from the UK – it will be limited to French nationals and residents and their families.
“Tourism or business trips for people who do not have French or European nationality or are residents will be limited.
“People will have to register on an app… and will have to self-isolate in a place of their choosing for seven days – controlled by the security forces – but this can be shortened to 48 hours if a negative test is carried out in France.”
Mr Attal said the rules are aimed at slowing down the arrival of Omicron cases in France and allowing the country’s booster campaign to advance.
Amid questions over how the new policy will affect cross-Channel trade, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said hauliers will be exempt.
He tweeted: “To confirm I have liaised with my French counterpart (Jean-Baptiste Djebbari) and hauliers will remain exempt.”
A spokesman for ferry operator Brittany Ferries said: “These new measures are a hammer blow to our Christmas season.
“In the context of an Omicron variant that is passing through the French population as it is in the UK, further border controls seem as unnecessary as they are unwelcome.”
UK health minister Gillian Keegan said she has had to cancel a skiing trip to France over Christmas due to the rising threat of Omicron.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for her reaction to the French travel restrictions, she said: “My first thought is ‘I’m glad that I cancelled my trip to France’, because that’s where I was supposed to go for Christmas.
“But, of course, every government is dealing with Omicron, every government has to make their decisions and has their response to it. It is obviously going to alter people’s plans, which is very unfortunate.”
The new French measures come as concerns are mounting over the Omicron variant, which is surging in the UK, with daily confirmed Covid-19 cases reaching a record high of 78,610 new cases on Wednesday.