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France to ease Covid travel ban from UK - but negative test result needed to travel

The UK government’s chief scientific adviser said cases of the variant strain are appearing “everywhere”.

Image: PA Images

Updated Dec 22nd 2020, 7:41 PM

FRANCE HAS ANNOUNCED that journeys from the UK will be allowed to resume tomorrow morning after the coronavirus ban was lifted, but those seeking to travel must have a negative test result.

After the UK government moved to impose Tier 4 restrictions, France shut its border with the UK for 48 hours, prompting delays for freight lorries heading across the Channel.

Johnson said at a Downing Street press briefing the number of lorries waiting on the M20 had been reduced from 500 to 170, but Highways England later said there were 900 lorries parked on the motorway as of 6pm yesterday.

Congestion has built up in Kent in the says since France decided to stop hauliers using the Channel crossing.

After announcing that the ban would be lifted tomorrow, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps urged lorry drivers not to head to the county in the hope of boarding a ferry or train.

“We will provide an update on hauliers later this evening, but hauliers must still NOT travel to Kent this evening,” Shapps said.

French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri said: “Planes, boats and Eurostar trains will resume service as of tomorrow morning.

French nationals, people living in France and those with a legitimate reason will have to be carrying a negative test.

The new strain

Sir Patrick Vallance said earlier today that the new strain was “everywhere”, and gave the grim warning after more than 40 countries banned UK flights because of fears regarding the spread of the coronavirus variant.

At the Downing Street news conference Vallance said: “The evidence on this virus is that it spreads easily, it’s more transmissible, we absolutely need to make sure we have the right level of restrictions in place.

I think it is likely that this will grow in numbers of the variant across the country and I think it’s likely, therefore, that measures will need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced.

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) met again yesterday to consider the new variant and said, while it does not appear to alter the course of the disease, it does spread more easily.

“That again reinforces the point that it’s important to get ahead of this and to make sure that the tiering system is adequate to stop things going, and not to watch it and react in retrospect,” Vallance said.

The chief scientific adviser’s remarks followed London and parts of southern and eastern England being rushed into the new Tier 4 lockdown regime at the weekend after existing Tier 3 measures proved inadequate to control the spread of the more infectious variant.

Vallance indicated a lockdown may be needed in wider areas of England, particularly as Christmas mixing may result in an increased spread of cases.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have already announced new lockdowns from Stephen’s Day, while Wales’ tough restrictions will only be eased for Christmas Day before being reimposed.

Public health officials in Ireland have said there is not yet any “hard evidence” that the new Covid-19 strain circulating in the UK is more infectious than other strains.

Speaking yesterday, Director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Dr Cillian De Gascun said, however, that it is “prudent” to act on the basis that this might be the case until more research is carried out.

Vallance’s stark warning came as:

  • Boris Johnson spoke to French president Emmanuel Macron.
  • More than 500,000 people have now received the first dose of a vaccine in the UK.
  • The prime minister refused to guarantee that schools in England will reopen after Christmas, saying “we want, if we possibly can, to get schools back in a staggered way at the beginning of January” but “the commonsensical thing to do is to follow the path of the epidemic”.

The closure of cross-Channel routes alarmed businesses, including those relying on the trouble-free passage of produce into the UK, as well as holidaymakers looking to leave for the continent – all with the added complication of the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December.

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The Northern Ireland Executive held an emergency late-night meeting amid a row over whether a Great Britain travel ban should be introduced, proposed by Sinn Féin but voted down by the executive.

However, ministers will issue guidance advising against non-essential travel between Northern Ireland and both the Republic and Great Britain.

The UK government said a further 215 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, while there had been 33,364 more lab-confirmed cases as of 9am Sunday.

Official figures indicated Wales has had more than 600 cases of the new variant but this is “almost certainly a significant underestimation”, First Minister Mark Drakeford said.

Analysis by PA found that, of the 127 acute hospital trusts with a 24-hour emergency department in England, 42 (33%) had more Covid-19 patients on 18 December than at the peak of the first wave in the spring.

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