Passengers from international flights arrive at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London. | Toby Melville


Britain has no choice but to impose a 14-day quarantine on all travellers arriving from France due to rising coronavirus infection rates there, transport minister Grant Shapps said on Friday.

Britain announced late on Thursday that it would impose a quarantine, from 0300 GMT on Saturday, on arrivals from France, the Netherlands and Malta because infection rates there were too high, dealing a new blow to the travel industry. France warned that it would reciprocate.

On Friday Shapps said he sympathised with travellers but that they should not be entirely surprised, given the fluid situation around the pandemic.

"It's a dynamic situation, and I don't think that anybody... would want us to do anything other than protect public health and public safety," Shapps told Sky News.

"That does mean where we see countries breach a certain level of cases ... then we have no real choice but to act," he added.

Shapps estimated that there were about 160,000 British holidaymakers in France who would be affected by the new quarantine rules, but ruled out any special assistance, saying they knew the risks before travelling.

British people made 10.3 million trips to France last year, making it the second-most popular overseas destination after Spain, and Britain received 3.6 million visitors from France, the second-largest number after the United States.

France now joins Spain on the quarantine list, deterring trips there and causing new headaches for airlines and travel companies who had been banking on an August recovery.
The finances of many companies in the travel industry are already close to breaking point after three months when holidays were halted, and they have called on the government for an alternative to quarantine.

Airlines UK, the industry body representing British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair amongst others, said that a testing regime allowing people to avoid quarantine or quarantine rules which only covered the most affected regions, instead of whole countries, should be brought in instead.

"It's another devastating blow to the travel industry already reeling from the worst crisis in its history," Airlines UK CEO Tim Alderslade said.

Shares in easyJet slumped 5% while IAG, which owns British Airways, lost 4%. Goodbody analysts said UK-French traffic was set to account for 6% of BA's traffic and 4.4% of easyJet's in the third quarter.

As well as the quarantine policy, Britain advised against all but essential travel to France - a step that often triggers travel insurance claims and makes it hard for new travellers to find coverage.