Government defends France being on Amber Plus travel list - rules around that category explained

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 9:57 am
Updated Friday, 30th July 2021, 10:13 am
France is currently the only country on the Amber Plus list, although it's likely more countries will follow (Photo: IAN LANGSDON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

With changes continually being made to restrictions regarding travel, travellers will now have to get to grips with a new category within the traffic light travel system. Alongside Red, Amber, Green and the Green watchlist, Amber Plus is a new level that has its own rules and regulations.

The new Amber Plus label comes after it was announced that all travellers, regardless of vaccination status, returning from France to England from 19 July will need to continue to follow previous quarantine rules despite the new changes made to those returning from Amber countries.

This is what you need to know.

What is the traffic light system?

The traffic light system refers to how countries around the world are rated for Covid-19, and the rules regarding each country will vary depending where they lie in the scheme.

Destinations are assigned a colour, either Green, Green watchlist, Amber or Red, based on a range of Covid-19 measures, such as vaccination numbers, infection rates and the presence of virus variants.

The different colours indicate the risk of travelling to each location.

The Government states that you “should not travel to red list countries or territories”.

Read more: Covid vaccine passport for UK nightclubs: how will new policy work, from when - and what did Boris Johnson say

What are the rules for those returning from France?

The Government announced: “From Monday 19 July, UK residents arriving from amber countries who are fully vaccinated will no longer have to quarantine, although they will still need to comply with necessary testing requirements.”

However, at the last minute before the rules came into play, it was revealed that the change would not apply to France, “following the persistent presence of cases in France of the Beta variant, which was first identified in South Africa”.

Anyone returning to England who has been in France in the last 10 days will be required to quarantine on arrival in their own accommodation, and will need to arrange day two and day eight Covid-19 tests, regardless of their vaccination status.

“This includes any fully vaccinated individual who transits through France from either a Green or another Amber country to reach England,” a statement from the Government explains.

The Amber Plus category lies between the Amber list and Red list - it requires the quarantine time of the Red list without the need for travellers to go through the process at a hotel.

Why is France in a category of its own?

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that those returning from France being required to self isolate due to high cases of a Covid-19 variant on an island 6,000 miles from Paris.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Raab said that the decision to place France on the Amber Plus list was “based on the prevalence of the so-called Beta variant, in particular in the Reunion bit of France”.

Reunion is a French island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar.

Asked why the travel restriction remained in place for mainland France, the Cabinet minister replied: “It’s not the distance that matters, it’s the ease of travel between different component parts of any individual country.”

He insisted that “we want to get France up the traffic light system as soon as possible”.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also told Kay Burley from Sky News that the variant is also “an issue” in the northern parts of France as well.

He said: “The Beta variant, it is not just – as has been reported – on an island thousands of miles away, it was also an issue in particular in northern France. So it has been an overall concern.

"And look, the big concern is that we don’t allow a variant in which somehow is able to escape the vaccine programme that we have got.

"We don’t want to have got this far with vaccinations, with just getting towards 90 per cent of all adults having been vaccinated, and then throw it all away because a variant that the vaccine perhaps can’t handle came in.

"Now all the evidence on all of that has been pulled together - the latest research on how the vaccine works with the Beta variant, the scale of the Beta variant and France and the rest of it - and then these decisions will, of course, be constantly reviewed which is exactly what will happen.”

What has been said about the rule change?

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We have always been clear that we will not hesitate to take rapid action at our borders to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the gains made by our successful vaccination programme.

“With restrictions lifting on Monday across the country, we will do everything we can to ensure international travel is conducted as safely as possible, and protect our borders from the threat of variants.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps added: “Travel will be different this year and whilst we are committed to continuing to open up international travel safely, our absolute priority is to protect public health here in the UK.

“We urge everyone thinking about going abroad this summer to check their terms and conditions as well as the travel restrictions abroad before they go.”

A spokesman for Brittany Ferries said: “This is madness. It would be like France hammering British holidaymakers due to a Covid outbreak on the Falkland Islands.

“It makes you wonder if those in the centre of power have access to an atlas or a geography GCSE between them.”

French Europe minister Clement Beaune said that the move from the UK was “incomprehensible on health grounds” and accused the UK government of making decisions “not based on science”.

Speaking to French TV channel LCI, Beaune said: “It’s excessive, and it’s frankly incomprehensible on health grounds. It’s not based on science and [is] discriminatory towards the French.”

He added that the UK should use “common sense” and review the matter “as quickly as possible”.

Will other countries be added to the list?

As it stands, it is only France that is included on the Amber Plus list, however there is the possibility that we could see more countries added.

Data expert Tim White took to Twitter to discuss the move when the Amber Plus category was first announced.

In a long thread of Tweets, he wrote: “Let’s start by recapping what we know about #France #Greece and #Spain and their variants.

“So #France was nonsensically put on Amber+ for <4% of Beta cases from a very small sample. It really does seem the govt advisors could not read the data, but unlikely to admit a mistake.

“So if that level is the new benchmark, then there is a problem for #Spain and #Greece. But Spain does so little genomic sequencing it’s going to be as outrageous as the France decision if it is made Amber+ too.”

He wrote that “either all of Spain and islands go Amber+, or none”, and that “Belgium, Netherlands and Germany must be at risk too, low incidence of variants in previous data”.

However, according to a source at The Times, “Spain is unlikely to go to Amber Plus”.

How long will Amber Plus be its own list?

According to the i, the Government is expected to do away with the controversial category in the next review, shifting France to the Amber list.

Speaking to LBC, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “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 would mean that destinations such as Greece and Spain would remain on the Amber list, following concerns that they could end up on the Amber Plus list.