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.’
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.
Meanwhile, MPs have warned other Covid variants are being allowed to enter Britain unchecked because of a decline in 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.
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 fallen because of the rapid growth of the third wave.
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.
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.