France will lift its ban on UK holidaymakers from Friday morning, the tourism minister has announced, dropping a requirement for all travellers from the UK to show evidence of a “compelling reason” for their journey.
Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said on Thursday that people arriving from Britain would also no longer need to self-isolate on arrival in France, but proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than 24 hours before departure would still be demanded.
“People will once again be able to travel for leisure between France and the UK, and to go skiing,” he said.
The decision to allow non-essential travel again will be welcomed by travel operators including ferry companies and the cross-Channel Eurostar train service, and in particular by British skiers, thousands of whom have booked holidays in Alpine ski resorts.
The move has been applauded across the travel industry. Eurostar said it would ramp up its services.
A spokesperson for the firm said: “We welcome the safe reduction of travel restrictions which will allow our customers to travel more freely between the UK and France.
“We are ready to welcome more passengers onboard and will continue to increase the frequency of our services in the coming weeks to offer passengers more flexibility and choice.”
Chris Logan, the managing director of Britain’s biggest winter sports operator Crystal Ski, said: “Like the rest of the ski community, I’m delighted we’ll be able to hit the slopes in France once again.
“It’s been a challenging start to the season, with Switzerland and France both imposing short-term bans, and complex and ever-changing testing requirements.
“But with the relaxation of UK testing and the Alps open to the UK again, I’m feeling really optimistic. We’ve seen a steady increase in searches and bookings in the last two weeks.
“Bookings to France doubled yesterday even before the announcement and we would expect to see another very positive uptick now it’s official. The outlook is good, there are great deals available, so now is the time to book.”
A spokesperson for the travel trade organisation Abta also welcomed France’s decision.
He said: “France is one of the most popular destinations for UK holidaymakers. Thousands of people head there for ski breaks at this time of year, so this will be a huge relief for customers with holidays booked there for the next few weeks, who have been waiting anxiously for news.
“We are still waiting for more details from the French government on entry requirements such as the rules that will apply for children. Travellers should continue to monitor the Foreign Office travel advice.”
France tightened restrictions on travel to and from Britain on 18 December in an effort to curb the rapid spread of the Omicron Covid variant, requiring vaccinated and unvaccinated people to show a “compelling reason” for travel such as a family or health emergency.
The rule, which in effect limited entry from the UK to French and EU nationals and British citizens resident in France, was later eased to allow people in “for the pursuit of an economic activity requiring an on-site presence that cannot be postponed”.
The rules also required all arrivals from the UK to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within the previous 24 hours and to quarantine in France for seven days, reduced to 48 hours if they could produce a new negative test.
Thursday’s decision should also mean an end to a controversial rule barring British nationals resident in other EU countries from travelling through France to reach their homes. The transit ban was temporarily suspended on 30 December after UK citizens living in Belgium and Germany were refused entry to France.
The French government spokesperson, Gabriel Attal, said on Wednesday the ban on non-essential travel should be lifted within days because the highly transmissible Omicron variant was now dominant in France.
New daily coronavirus infections in France have set successive records in recent weeks, with the country on Tuesday reporting a new high of nearly 370,000 infections and a seven-day average high of more than 283,000, with Omicron accounting for 87% of all cases nationwide.
The strict travel measures were also imposed during what analysts see as a post-Brexit breakdown of trust between the British and French governments over a host of issues from immigration to fishing.