The UK government has removed France from its list of travel corridors, leaving hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers scrambling to rearrange their travel plans. A 14-day quarantine on return to the UK from France will come into effect from 4am on Saturday (15 August), leaving a window of little more than 30 hours for travellers to get home if they want to escape the measures.
The UK criteria for removing a country from the list is based on per capita case numbers. If these go above 20 per 100,000, the UK government categorises that country as high-risk. This Wednesday France reached 30.4, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, with significant numbers in recent days: 2,524 new cases were reported on Wednesday, up from 1,397 on Tuesday, and over 2,000 a day last weekend.
For those already on holiday in France, Eurotunnel issued an advisory following the announcement late on Thursday (13 August): “In light of the change to quarantine requirements for UK travellers returning from France, Eurotunnel Le Shuttle would like to advise customers currently in France, and hoping to return early, that they must amend their tickets online at eurotunnel.com, before travelling to the French terminal. The service is already very busy this weekend and there is no additional capacity. To avoid long queues and severe disruption we strongly advise against turning up at the terminal outside the allocated time. Customers will be unable to board alternative shuttles without a valid booking.”
Can I travel to France anyway?
Some holidaymakers may choose to accept the 14-day quarantine on return to the UK and travel regardless. Working from home may be an option, but bear in mind that quarantine rules are much stricter than lockdown. You are not allowed outside beyond your home or garden, to exercise or walk the dog. Children will not be able to start school. No visitors are allowed, apart from carers.
Those in quarantine can only leave their homes to seek urgent medical assistance; to obtain basic necessities such as food and medicine, where no one else can do so on their behalf, and they cannot be delivered; to fulfil a legal obligation (such as a court hearing); on compassionate grounds (a funeral or visiting a critically ill family member); to access critical public services (eg social services); to move to a new place of self-isolation previously outlined in their Passenger Locator Form; or in extenuating circumstances, such as a fire in the home.
Anyone caught breaking quarantine faces a fine of up to £1,000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and £480 in Scotland; persistent offenders can be fined up to £5,000.
As well as removing France from the travel corridors list, the Foreign Office has also updated its website to advise against all but essential travel. Although this is guidance rather than law, it could be risky to travel, given that the majority of insurers won’t cover travellers who choose to flout this guidance. Most policies will cover medical expenses for those who were already in France before the announcement – but anyone who travels after the advice changes wouldn’t be able to get help with hospital bills.
If I travel, what can I expect from my holiday in France?
Wearing masks in enclosed public spaces is compulsory for those aged 11 and over. This includes restaurants and bars, museums, shops, hotels and shared holiday properties, leisure centres, holiday parks, libraries, theatres, cinemas, places of worship, boats, covered markets, and other places where multiple people from different households gather. Masks are also mandatory on public transport and in taxis, and those not wearing them could face fines. Many attractions and restaurants will be running at reduced capacity, so booking ahead is advised.
Social distancing is expected in other public areas, such as beaches – some of which have roped-off zones for sunbathers – as well as in town squares, campsites and around swimming pools.
What should I do if I’m already on holiday in France?
You have until 4am on Saturday (15 August) to get home before the quarantine requirement comes into force. Expect a rush to the ferry ports, and some very expensive last-minute flights home if you need to shorten a trip. Eurotunnel has cautioned about trying to make a dash home as it is currently fully booked meaning those cutting their trip short are unlikely to get on a train home.
If I cancel my ferry booking, will I get a refund?
Unless you booked a fully refundable ticket, it is unlikely. However, the ferry firms are mostly allowing passengers with bookings up to 31 August to rebook for free, or offering vouchers that can be used next year. DFDS is offering travel credits that expire on 1 September 2021 and P&O’s vouchers last a year. Brittany Ferries is the exception: it is saying that normal terms and conditions apply, so you will lose your money unless you booked a refundable ticket.
Eurotunnel is allowing passengers who can’t travel the option to rebook next clear, or ultimately claim a voucher.
What about the airlines/Eurostar?
The fact that flights are still operating means airlines are under no obligation to give refunds to those who choose not to travel. When Spain was taken off the no-quarantine list, British Airways and Ryanair both declined to help passengers who could no longer travel.
The Ryanair website states: “Please note that a government imposed advice on quarantine period will not result in the flight being cancelled and an automatic entitlement to refunds.” EasyJet did offer passengers heading to Spain the chance to switch to alternative flights, but has yet to state its policy on trips to France.
Eurostar says passengers with a booking up to 7 September can request a voucher that would be valid for 12 months from the date of issue.
What about my accommodation?
Again, accommodation providers are under no obligation to offer a refund, unless it was part of the original terms and conditions. Some hotels did offer cancellation options to encourage bookings, so check the reservation terms.
Airbnb is allowing those who booked their trip on or before 14 March the option to cancel trips up to the end of August if “the pandemic is preventing you from completing your reservation”. Its standard cancellation terms apply to all bookings made after 14 March. Some people will end up losing half their money.
I have a package booked – what will happen?
Package holidays are Atol-protected meaning holidaymakers are entitled to a full refund when the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to a destination. The opportunity to change to alternative dates or destinations may be offered first.
Will my insurance pay out?
A few of the best travel policies offer cancellation cover if a quarantine is imposed, so check your policy terms. However, in most cases your travel policy will not pay out.
Will I be paid while in quarantine?
You’re not automatically entitled to statutory sick pay if you are self-isolating after returning from holiday, according to industrial relations body Acas. If you can work from home, for instance, you can be paid as normal. But if you can’t, a solution could be to take annual leave. Downing Street has said those denied pay after being forced to isolate should claim universal credit, or seek arbitration.
Employment lawyers have said that only those with two years’ service are protected against being made redundant for failing to come to work. Those with Covid-19 symptoms and who are self-isolating are entitled to statutory sick pay of £96 a week or higher.