Travelers arriving in the UK from France and five other destinations will, from 04:00 BST on Saturday, need to self-isolate for 14 days, the government announced on Thursday, sparking many holidaymakers to rush for home before the quarantine deadline.
The ruling comes amid the ongoing CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, pandemic and applies to both returning UK residents and visitors to the country.
According to a government statement, the ruling was imposed following “a significant change” in virus risk in all the six destinations that were added to the quarantine list.
There were reportedly around 160,000 British tourists in France, and many of them headed towards the French port of Calais hoping to catch an early ferry or a shuttle train home.
In Calais, ferry companies were adding extra crossings to help more people get home before the deadline, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, head of the Port of Calais, told Reuters.
Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, who brought in additional staff to deal with immediate queries, however, said in a statement that they had “no additional capacity.”
John Keefe, director of public affairs at Getlink, which operates the Channel Tunnel told BBC’s Newsnight programme on Friday that trains were “already pretty much fully booked.”
“It’s not going to be easy to get back,” he said.
Airlines, which have already been hit heavily during the CCP virus pandemic, were adversely affected by the new quarantine rules.
Airline and travel shares tumbled, with British Airways owner IAG down 6 percent and EasyJet down 7 percent.
Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, described the measures on Twitter as “another devastating blow to the travel industry already reeling from the worst crisis in its history.”
Response and Criticism
France warned it would reciprocate, causing further headaches for airlines, which might have to cancel yet more flights, meaning fresh financial pain and denying them the August recovery for they’d hoped for.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, however, on a visit to Northern Ireland on Thursday, told reporters the UK would be “absolutely ruthless” about quarantine measures, even with the country’s “closest and dearest friends and partners.”
“We can’t be remotely complacent about our own situation,” he said.
“Everybody understands that in a pandemic you don’t allow our population to be re-infected or the disease to come back in.”
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth office meanwhile advised in a statement against “all but essential travel to France.”
The new quarantine measures, also affecting travelers from the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Aruba, were met with criticism from the UK Labour Party.
“That the government has still not put in place an effective track, trace and isolate system has made matters far worse,” Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said in a statement.
He said that the measures had “made it more likely that we are reliant on the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine,” and he called on the government to produce “details of any work being done to reduce the time needed to isolate through increased testing and other measures.”
UK quarantine rules have varied during the CCP virus pandemic.
When Europe first went into lockdown in March, Britain was criticized for not restricting arrivals from abroad. Since June, however, it has introduced strict quarantine rules for arrivals from countries with infection rates above a certain level.
Spain, the favorite holiday destination for Britons, came under British government quarantine rules on July 26.
The quarantines coincide with lockdown easements in England that were previously put on pause. On Thursday, the government also announced new enforcement measures, which impose penalties of from £1,000 ($1,300) to £3,200 ($4,200) for serious non-compliance with social distancing rule violations.
The penalties, which will apply from Saturday, include increased fines for persistent flouting of face-covering rules and new fines for people “hosting raves or other unlawful gatherings of more than 30 people.”
Wedding receptions with up to 30 people can resume, however, along with socially distanced indoor performances.
Other easements include the re-opening of bowling alleys, skating rinks, and casinos.
Beauty salons, tattoo studios, spas, and barbers can also open for “close contact services and treatments.”
Policies Not Contradictory
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps denied that the quarantine measures and domestic easement policies were contradictory, saying that the aim was to keep the reproduction rate of infection below one.
“Being able to open up some of those things but having to close down travel corridors elsewhere is all part of the same thing,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Shapps said he sympathized with travelers but said they should not be entirely surprised, given the fluid situation around the pandemic.
“Where we see countries breach a certain level of cases … then we have no real choice but to act,” he told Sky News.
He ruled out any special assistance for holidaymakers, saying they knew the risks before traveling, with a possible quarantine to France having been rumored for weeks.
Reuters contributed to this report