France was placed on the ‘amber plus’ list because of Beta variant cases on the tiny Reunion Island 6,000 miles from Paris, Dominic Raab said today.
The Foreign Secretary openly admitted that the classification was based on the prevalence of the strain ‘in the Reunion bit of France’ – which is an island in the Indian Ocean.
‘It’s not the distance that matters, it’s the ease of travel between different component parts of any individual country,’ he added.
The comments came as France voiced fury at the ‘incomprehensible’ decision to leave it out of exemptions from quarantine for EU and US travellers coming to the UK.
Meanwhile, La Reunion will go into a partial lockdown at the weekend due to a surge in Covid-19 infections.
The Foreign Secretary openly admitted that the classification was based on the prevalence of the strain ‘in the Reunion bit of France’ – which is an island in the Indian Ocean. Pictured, the 6,000-mile difference between Paris and Reunion Island
There is growing concern among officials in Paris over the infection rates in France’s overseas territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific where vaccination uptake is lower than the nationwide average.
La Reunion will from Saturday for the next two weeks go into partial lockdown, with movement only allowed 10 kilometres from people’s home in the daytime and five kilometres on a Sunday, said its top official, prefect Jacques Billant.
In the evenings, there will be a strict curfew from 6.00pm until 5.00am, with no movement allowed expect for essential reasons, he added.
Cafes, restaurants and gyms will also close for the next two weeks as Mr Billant described the situation as ‘worrying’.
Dominic Raab’s (pictured today) comments came as France voiced fury at the ‘incomprehensible’ decision to leave it out of exemptions from quarantine for EU and US travellers coming to the UK
He said there was ‘unprecedented exponential growth of the epidemic’ with 350 out of every 100,000 inhabitants infected.
The situation on La Reunion is being particularly closely watched after Britain said it was the main reason why travellers from France – unlike all other non-red list destinations – still have to quarantine for 10 days on arrival in the country.
Mr Raab told the BBC that this was due to the prevalence of the Beta variant on La Reunion, which is off Madagascar and over 9,000 kilometres (almost 6,000 miles) from Paris.
A spokesman for Brittany Ferries, which runs ferries across the Channel, said the Government’s logic was ‘like France hammering British holidaymakers due to a Covid outbreak on the (British Atlantic territory of the) Falkland Islands.’
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune earlier lambasted the British restrictions as ‘discriminatory towards French people’ and making ‘no sense in terms of health policy’.
Beaune said the Beta strain accounted for fewer than five percent of Covid cases in France, and mostly occurred in overseas territories from where relatively few people travelled to the UK.
La Reunion (pictured) will from Saturday for the next two weeks go into partial lockdown, with movement only allowed 10 kilometres from people’s home in the daytime and five kilometres on a Sunday, said its top official, prefect Jacques Billant
But Prime Minister Jean Castex earlier expressed alarm over the ‘dramatic’ situation in some overseas territories, with only three out of every 10 adults vaccinated on La Reunion compared with over half nationwide.
The Caribbean territory of Martinique, where only 15 percent of people are vaccinated, will also go into a three-week lockdown from Friday with only limited movements allowed in daytime an a curfew from 7.00pm, its prefect Stanislas Cazelles announced.
It comes as health officials are said to be ‘getting very jumpy’ about Spain’s situation with the strain, which emerged in South Africa and is thought to be more resistant to the AstraZeneca vaccine given to millions in the UK.
Any move to put Spain on the ‘amber plus’ list is likely to provoke a fierce row within Government.
Although there is concern about the Beta variant, many experts believe it is being ‘crowded out’ by the more virulent Delta variant now spreading rapidly across Spain.
The shock move to place France in its own category earlier this month wrecked thousands of families’ holidays as well as the plans of many expats hoping to see loved ones for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Cases of the Delta variant have fallen sharply in France in recent weeks and ministers are confident it will be restored to the same status as other amber list countries, meaning fully vaccinated travellers will no longer have to quarantine when they return.
Asked about the possibility of Spain going on an ‘amber watchlist’ – with the possibility of it moving straight to the red category – Mr Raab said: ‘I can’t rule things that the JBC and the government will decide, but they’ll make that decision next week in terms of the traffic light system for all the relevant countries.’
Mr Raab said the ‘momentum forward is positive’ with the high proportion of Britons who are double-jabbed.
‘We’ve done the job we had to do domestically, and as we see other countries catch up if you like, I think we’re increasingly confident that more countries will go on either on amber or onto green,’ he said.
Pushed for advice to would-be holidaymakers, Mr Raab said ‘you’ll know next week’.
He suggested if the need to book immediately they will ‘have to base it on the traffic light system we’ve got in place right now’.
‘We can’t give cast iron guarantees about what the next review system will decide. If we did it wouldn’t be a very meaningful review system,’ he added.
Meanwhile, French minister Clement Beaune has slammed the decision to keep quarantine measures for vaccinated travellers coming from France to the UK, while other EU countries and the US are exempted.
‘It’s excessive, and it’s frankly incomprehensible on health grounds … It’s not based on science and discriminatory towards the French,’ Mr Beaune told LCI TV.
‘I hope it will be reviewed as soon as possible, it’s just common sense.’
Mr Beaune said France was not planning tit-for-tat measures ‘for now’.