British holidaymakers in France face having to fork out hundreds of pounds to get back to the UK before quarantine restrictions take effect.
Travellers scrambled to book trains, ferries and flights home after the Government announced that all arrivals after 4am on Saturday will have to self-isolate for 14 days.
Air fares are more than six times higher than normal for flights from Paris to London on Friday, with the cheapest British Airways tickets being sold for £452. The lowest priced Eurostar tickets available on Friday morning are £210, compared with £165 on Saturday.
P&O Ferries has limited availability, but one person travelling with a car from Calais to Dover can buy a ticket for £200. Car-carrying Channel Tunnel trains are fully booked until Saturday.
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Eurotunnel Le Shuttle said in a statement: ‘Due to the recent Government announcement, our shuttles are now fully booked until tomorrow morning.
‘There is no more ticket availability and we are not selling tickets at check-in. Please do not arrive at the terminal unless you have a ticket valid for travel today.’
The quarantine conditions will also apply to travellers returning from the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks & Caicos and Aruba.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted the Government had taken ‘a practical approach’ to the new restrictions.
Mr Shapps said an estimated 160,000 holidaymakers are expected to look to return home on Friday.
He defended the decision to remove France from the UK’s safe travel list, which comes after Boris Johnson promised to be ‘absolutely ruthless’ in imposing new quarantine restrictions.
Mr Shapps said: ‘The reality is that in all of the things to do with coronavirus, there always has had to be a cut-off and we’ve seen this throughout, haven’t we, in the way that rules have had to be implemented and, so, “if we can do this, why can’t we do that?’”, that’s always going to be the case.
‘What we have to do is provide clear guidance and, in this case, clear law in order to require people to quarantine.
He added: ‘I think the truth of this is, as everyone watching realises, there’s no perfect way to deal with coronavirus.
‘Unless you were going to have a sliding scale that sort of said if you stay another 24 hours the you must quarantine for X amount of time, another 36 hours for Y amount of time, you know, clearly there has to be a cut-off somewhere.’
Undeterred passengers at London St Pancras made their way onto the 10.24am Eurostar service to Paris, including lawyer John Strange, 60, from Reading.
He said he would be able to work from home on his return from spending 10 days in the French capital, adding: ‘It’s not a disaster for me but it seems for many people it will be, particularly those with young families, it’s going to be catastrophic.
‘I’m sure many will have to cancel their plans and have to accept all that pain and cost that goes with it.’
But another traveller, a 39-year-old dentist who gave her name as Sonata K, cancelled her plans to visit her mother after only finding out about the measures when she got to the station.
She said: ‘It’s not worth it to go out and have to self-isolate. With my work I can’t do the procedures from home.
‘We were too late to get the news, we’re just finding out here but it’s better than on the train.
‘We’re looking at going to Cardiff and checking trains now, but the weather is changing a bit.’
She added that for £30 they could change their Eurostar tickets to another day and said one hotel had charged them one night’s stay for late cancellation.
Department for Transport officials said data from France shows that over the past week there has been a 66% increase in newly reported Covid-19 cases and a 52% increase in the weekly incidence rate per 100,000 population, indicating a sharp rise in infections.
The latest 14-day cumulative figures from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control show 32.1 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in France, compared with 18.5 in the UK.
The move will come as a bitter blow to the hard-pressed French tourism industry which relies heavily on visitors from the UK.
France’s secretary of state for European affairs said the UK decision would lead to ‘reciprocal measures’ across the Channel.
Clement Beaune tweeted: ‘A British decision which we regret and which will lead to reciprocal measures, all in hoping for a return for normal as soon as possible.’
The decision to add the Netherlands was made after a 52% increase in newly reported cases between August 7 and 13 after a consistent series of rises in previous weeks.
Over the past week, there has been a 273% increase in newly reported cases in Turks & Caicos, a 1,106% increase in Aruba and a 105% rise in Malta.
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