United Kingdom

Minister hints France could be dropped from 'amber-plus' travel quarantine list

France could soon be dropped from the 'amber-plus' travel quarantine list because of falling rates of the Beta variant, a Government minister hinted today.

Anyone who arrives in Britain from across the Channel must still self-isolate for ten days, even if they are fully-vaccinated. Officials insisted the move was necessary because of the 'persistent presence' of the South African strain, which can partially evade vaccines.

But Environment Secretary George Eustice today suggested the stricter rules could be scrapped when No10 next reviews the list at the start of August.

New data showed just 1.3 per cent of new infections sequenced in France were Beta during the most recent seven-day period. Rates are up to five times higher in other European holiday hotspots, such as Spain and Greece. Outbreaks are also currently bigger in both destinations.

Discussing the move to put France on the tougher list, Mr Eustice told LBC: 'There was a reason at the time that the advice was we should put France on that amber (plus) list.

'It was concern about the Beta variant and the fact that the vaccine might be slightly less effective against that.

'But as those rates come down obviously the evidence will change and it can be reviewed and we will want to be putting countries like France back onto the amber list in the normal way.'

It comes as the great British summer getaway began this morning as the heatwave continued. Thousands of tourists headed to packed airports, with families keen to escape the 'pingdemic' chaos.

Meanwhile, MPs have warned other Covid variants are being allowed to enter Britain unchecked because of a decline in genomic testing.

Just 3 per cent of positive tests among travellers arriving from amber list countries are now being analysed in laboratories, a report claimed today. For comparison, the figure stood at 60 per cent in March.

New data showed just 1.3 per cent of new infections sequenced in France were Beta (light blue) during the most recent seven-day period. For comparison, the figure stood at around 4 per cent last week. Dark blue bars represent the proportion of cases made up by Delta, dark green shows Alpha, light green shows Gamma, and grey shows other strains yet to be confirmed

Data shows how cases have spiralled over the past month in Britain (purple), as well as Spain (green), Greece (blue) and France (yellow) 

Holiday firms urge No10 to stick more destinations on the green list

Holiday firms have urged Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to open up travel to more destinations when restrictions are reviewed next week.

Trade association Abta wants more locations added to the green list, testing requirements eased, and tailored financial support for the industry.

It also questioned the recent decisions to remove the quarantine exemption for fully-vaccinated travellers returning from France, and to put Spain's Balearic Islands on the amber list.

Since May, quarantine and testing requirements have been determined by whether a person is entering the UK from a green, amber or red list location.

The next major update on which country is on which list will take place around August 4.

But the Department for Transport has committed to holding several 'formal reviews' of the rules for each list, with the next due 'no later than July 31'.

People returning from a green destination are not required to self-isolate, but only a handful of major European summer hotspots are in that tier.

Spain, Italy and Greece are among the countries on the amber list.

Layla Moran, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said: 'The rise of the Beta variant in neighbouring countries should be setting alarm bells ringing in Government.

'Yet instead, ministers are dismantling our defences against the virus and opening the floodgates to new variants.

'It seems that vital lessons have still not been learned from the failure to prevent the Delta variant taking root in the UK.

'The Government must urgently fix this scandal and step up the sequencing of test results, before more dangerous Covid variants slip through the net.'

It is not clear why fewer traveller tests are being sequenced. 

But the proportion of domestic cases being analysed has also drastically fallen because of the rapid growth of the third wave, suggesting labs are struggling to cope with the growing outbreak. 

The analysis, based on data from the House of Commons Library, was based on the most up-to-date Test and Trace statistics – taken between June 10-30.

MailOnline's number-crunching of the same data revealed Covid positivity rates were 22 times higher for some nations on the amber list compared to France.

Some 0.3 per cent of people arriving from France tested positive for Covid. For comparison, the rate was as high as 6.8 per cent in Sierra Leone.

Leading scientists told MailOnline the figures suggest France is being 'unfairly targeted' and it is unclear why the country has been singled out.

Meanwhile, senior Tory MP Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, said: 'It is hard to see the logic of putting France on an amber plus list.

Environment Secretary George Eustice today suggested the stricter rules could be scrapped when No10 next reviews the list at the start of August

'The so-called Beta variant of Covid is more common in other countries but it also seemed to be displaced in the UK by the Kent variant last year.

'We should give people clarity and certainty to plan their travel unless a compelling reason arises for changes of policy.'

Former Labour minister Ben Bradshaw accused ministers of making the France move 'based on out of date analysis of the Beta variant and dodgy figures'.

With the aim of getting holidays going again this summer with the pandemic still raging on, ministers adopted a traffic light travel policy saying the time had come to take advantage of being one of the world's most vaccinated countries.

Decisions on which countries appear on which list are made by ministers, based on advice provided by the Joint Biosecurity Centre — part of the UK's Health Security Agency.

It is not clear why fewer traveller tests are being sequenced. But the proportion of domestic cases being analysed (purple line) has also drastically fallen because of the rapid growth of the third wave (black line), suggesting labs are struggling to cope with the growing outbreak. The blue line shows the proportion of cases being sequenced or genotyped, which is another method of searching for variants

The destinations with the highest rate of people testing positive on return were Sierra Leone (6.8 per cent), Algeria (4.4 per cent) and Indonesia. There were closely followed by Russia (2.6 per cent), Kazakhstan (2.3 per cent) and Jordan (2.1 per cent). The places with the lowest rates of infected travellers on return were Lithuania Jamaica and Hong Kong, with the rate of Covid among arrivals at just 0.2 per cent

Figures from NHS Test and Trace show nearly 30 per cent of all travellers who had the virus between June 10 and 30 had been holidaying in Portugal and Spain

The lists are reviewed every three weeks but all countries are assumed to be amber. Brits are warned against travelling to countries on the red list, which have rapidly-growing outbreaks or are being hit hard by troublesome variants.

In a mix-up of the three-tier system however, the Department of Health last week announced that fully vaccinated people arriving in England from France from July 19 must still isolate for 10 days at home. All of the home nations adopted the same policy.

Travellers who have had both vaccines and visited any of the other 146 countries on the amber list do not have to quarantine — but do still have to take one Covid test before they are freed from home quarantine.

Scramble to flee Pingdemic Britain: Airports across the UK are rammed as lockdown-weary Brits race to jet off aboard - while 2.3million staycationers prepare to hit the road TODAY

The great British summer getaway began this morning as the heatwave continued - with thousands of tourists heading to packed airports and up to 2.3million drivers set to hit the roads as the school holidays kicked off.

The UK is enjoying another blast of heat today before torrential rain is set to cause flooding, travel disruption and could even leave some areas 'cut off' this weekend as a month and a half's worth of rain falls in just a few hours. 

London airports including Gatwick and Stansted were busy in the departures area today with many families jetting off on their summer holidays despite Covid-19 restrictions which may force them to self-isolate upon their return. 

Families were keen to escape the 'pingdemic' chaos in the UK which saw 2.3million people, including children sent home from school, told to isolate last week and 1.3million self-isolation alerts sent out over the seven-day period.

Among the families at Gatwick today were the Atrills from Coventry travelling to St Lucia, where it is currently 86F (30C) and sunny, and the Pitcher family from Eastleigh going to Skiathos where it is 84F (29C) and sunny. 

Most tourist destinations are currently on England's 'amber list', which requires ten days in quarantine upon your return unless you have had both jabs, or the 'red list' where the same period must be spent at an approved hotel. 

The RAC predicts today will be one of the busiest on the roads this year, with an estimated 2.3million leisure trips being made by drivers as 'staycation getaways' begin, warning: 'Journey times are likely to be severely affected.' 

The Met Office is predicting as much as 4in (100mm) of rain in parts of southern England, the Midlands and Wales during tomorrow and Sunday - while in comparison, the UK average rainfall for all of August is 2.8in (69mm).

And there is also now a Met Office weather warning for strong winds along the south coast of England from 3pm this afternoon until midnight tonight, which 'may lead to some disruption, particularly for holiday-makers'.

Forecasters said some places could see gusts of up to 55mph particularly along exposed coasts and near and over hills – with those at camp sites and vehicles towing caravans among the people warned to be on alert.

There is also a separate warning for heavy downpours and thunderstorms for southern England and South Wales from 8pm tonight for the next two days with up to 2in (50mm) of rain expected to fall within just a few hours.

It comes as sweltering temperatures will only fall slightly today despite England's unprecedented extreme heat warning coming to an end - after six days in a row of the mercury getting above 88F (31C) somewhere in the UK.

Temperatures in the UK are expected to be highest today in Northern Ireland, which has now broken its all-time heat record three times in a week and could do so again today, after Armagh hit 88.5F (31.4C) yesterday.

That made it the hottest place in Britain - and similar highs are expected again there today, as well as in North Wales and North West England. The UK's hottest day of 2021 so far was Tuesday when London got to 90F (32.2C). 

It comes as a record number of people in England and Wales were 'pinged' as contacts by the app and told to self-isolate for up to 10 days, with 618,903 alerts sent to users of the coronavirus app in the week to July 14.

The UK recorded 84 deaths and 39,906 cases of Covid-19 across the country yesterday, meaning cases are falling for the first time in two months, although infections among those in their 20s have soared to a record high. 

Environment Secretary George Eustice said today that self-isolation is still a key part of the fight against Covid-19 after more than 10,000 critical workers in the food sector were told they would not need to quarantine if pinged.

Pressure is mounting on the Government to bring forward the date at which people who are double jabbed can avoid self-isolation, currently August 16, as emergency measures to protect food supplies were launched.

The move - along with a limited relaxation of self-isolation rules for other critical sectors - will see 10,000 workers avoid the need to self-isolate if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case, and instead take daily tests.

Concerns over food supply chains have led supermarkets to urge customers not to panic buy as a range of items including meat, cheese, water and wine have gone missing from some stores which have empty shelves.  

The Ryanair check-in desks are busy at London Stansted Airport this morning as people fly away on a summer holiday

The Atrill family from Coventry arrive at London Gatwick Airport this morning as they head off to St Lucia on holiday

Heavy traffic on the M6 motorway near Corley services in Warwickshire this morning as people go on a summer getaway

Large queues develop at London Stansted Airport today as holidaymakers go through security checks this morning

Traffic on the M5 motorway heading south near Bristol this morning as people head away for the holidays

The Pitcher family from Eastleigh check-in at London Gatwick Airport this morning as they head to Skiathos in Greece

A busy check-in area at London Gatwick Airport this morning at the start of the big summer getaway as schools break up

A busy M6 motorway near Corley services in Warwickshire this morning as many begin their summer getaway

People check-in for easyJet flights at London Gatwick today at the start of the big summer getaway as schools break up

The Met Office has issued a series of severe weather warnings for today (left), tomorrow (centre) and Sunday (right)

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