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10th Dec 2022

France reopens to UK, as EU tackles new corona-strain

  • Paris skyline: UK-France transport deal clinched on Tuesday (Photo: Trey Ratcliff)

France has resumed transport links with the UK, on condition travellers get a negative test result, as the EU tries to contain a new type of Covid-19.

Flights, Eurostar trains, and ferries would restart services on Wednesday (23 December) morning, French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri said after talks with his British counterpart late on Tuesday.

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"French nationals, people living in France, and those with a legitimate reason [to travel from the UK to France] will have to be carrying a negative test [result]," to be let through, he added, however.

The deal "will see the French border reopen to those travelling for urgent reasons, provided they have a certified negative Covid test," British transport minister Grant Shapps said.

France said travellers would need to show a negative test result less than 72 hours before departure.

The UK said lorry drivers, thousands of whom were stuck near the British port of Dover, could get results within 30 minutes of taking a test, to help get them moving.

France had sealed off the UK after the discovery of a mutated coronavirus strain that was apparently up to 70 percent more contagious in Britain on Sunday.

Isolated cases of the new strain have already cropped up in Belgium, Denmark, Italy, and the Netherlands, prompting Sweden to also close its border with Denmark on Monday.

Virologists said there was no need to panic, as the new strain was not more lethal or vaccine-resistant.

But more than 50 countries worldwide, including the vast majority of EU states, also cut transport links to the UK in the past 48 hours.

And for its part, the European Commission, on Tuesday, indicated they had overreacted.

"While it is important to take swift temporary precautionary action to limit the further spread of the new strain of the virus and all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged, essential travel and transit of passengers should be facilitated," it said in a non-binding recommendation.

"Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply-chain disruptions," it added, amid concern on shortages of fresh fruit and vegetables in UK shops.

"Blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and UK citizens from returning to their homes [for Christmas]," EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders also said.

Meanwhile, the commission's UK guidelines could have broader implications inside Europe, if more countries followed Sweden's example on the Denmark border-closure.

General travellers should still "undergo a test or quarantine", as appropriate, the commission said in its UK advisory memo.

But medical staff on the move should be let off quarantine rules "while exercising [their] essential function", it noted.

And transport staff should be excused both tests and quarantines "when they are travelling across a border to and from a vessel, vehicle, or aircraft", the EU said.

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