EXPLAINED: What you need to know about travelling to France and the planned quarantine

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about travelling to France and the planned quarantine
Travel into France is still heavily restricted. Photo: AFP
It's been a confusing few days with announcements of a quarantine for anyone arriving into France, then clarification that this only applies to arrivals from non-European area countries. Here is the latest on travelling into France.

Two days of debate – first in the Senate and then in the Assemblée nationale – will now begin on the extension of France's State of Health Emergency until July 24th.

But there is one particular aspect of the plan that has caused some confusion – quarantine and isolation for people arriving in France.

Travel restrictions

For the majority of travellers, the question of quarantine is at present an academic one, since all travel into France is heavily restricted.

These restrictions will continue after the country begins to loosen its lockdown on May 11th and there is as yet no current end date.

“The travel restrictions currently in place at our borders will continue to apply,” the Interior Ministry said. “Nothing has changed.”

Anyone entering France or one of its overseas territories needs an international travel permit and only the following are permitted to enter the country

 

  • French citizens
  • People who have their primary residence in France. This does NOT include second home owners. Third country nationals will need to present a visa or residency card while EU nationals (which for this purpose still includes British people) do not need any proof of residency status.
  • People who have their permanent residency in another European country and are travelling through France to get home
  • Healthcare workers engaged in coronavirus-related care
  • Commercial good carriers such as lorry drivers and flight or cargo crews
  • Diplomatic staff
  • Cross-border workers. So for example if you live in France but work in Switzerland you can still travel back and forth.

Travel from within Europe is still permitted for the above reasons, but France has joined an EU-wide ban on all non-essential travel from outside the Schengen Zone. This currently runs until May 15th but could be extended.

Quarantine

The above restrictions will stay in place for the foreseeable future, but now France is debating adding quarantine measures for anyone arriving into the country.

This was first announced on Saturday by health minister Olivier Véran and provoked a confusing weekend trying to figure out who it applied to until finally the president's Elysée Palace stepped in to clarify things on Sunday night.

Véran initially said all travellers arriving in France would be subject to quarantine but used the example of French citizens returning home from a period abroad.

There is still a lot of detail that has not been revealed but here's what we know

  • There will be a compulsory 14 day quarantine period, whether people test positive for coronavirus or not. For people with symptoms this could be extended, but cannot last for longer than 30 days.
  • Those who test positive will be isolated.
  • This does not apply to people arriving from EU or Schengen zone countries, and this includes the UK. It had initially been announced that the quarantine would apply to everyone, but on Sunday night the Elysée said it  would not apply to “anyone arriving from the European Union, the Schengen zone or Britain, regardless of their nationality”.
  • There will be exceptions for people who regularly cross the border for work related reasons, for example long-distance lorry drivers. 
  • There will be an appeal procedure with special judges in place to hear cases within 72 hours

And here's what we don't know

  • Where and how people will be quarantined – this will reportedly be made clear with the publication a separate decree. Reports over the weekend said hotels and medical centres would be used, but this could yet change. 
  • How the quarantine will apply to French and EU citizens arriving from outside Europe, Schengen and UK.
  • If the people arriving from ALL other countries outside the EU, UK or Schengen area will be quarantined. The government said a “list of zones where the virus is circulating” will be published which may be a list of specific countries which the quarantine plan will apply to.
  • When the rule will be brought in and whether it will last for the length of the state of emergency (July 24th) or have a separate end date.
  • Whether people arriving into France from Europe will be advised (although not ordered) to quarantine

More details are expected to be revealed on Monday and the Elysée says “the rules will be announced in the coming days”.

 

What happens next?

The plans will be debated by the French Senate on Monday and the Assemblée nationale on Tuesday.

The debate is over the extension of the State of Health Emergency until July 24th, of which the quarantine is only one element.

The State of Health Emergency designation gives the government wide-ranging powers including restricting population movement.

The government is facing some opposition to its plan and has already made some concessions, including on the issue of people inside France going into forced quarantine if they test positive for coronavirus. This was initially described as compulsory, but has now been modified to be merely advisory.

Travel services

For those who do fall into one of the groups permitted to travel, there are limited options but some services are still running.

The Eurostar and Eurotunnel are still running a limited number of services per day, from May 4th face masks are compulsory on the Eurostar.

Eurotunnel passenger services warn travellers “you may be turned away by the French Authorities if you don't have good reason to travel within France.

“They have advised us that they will only allow travel for the following reasons: Going home to a main residence, essential work in France, medical staff”.

That means “no holidays or social visits”, Eurotunnel points out. 

There are a limited number of ferries running to France and some European flight routes are still running.

Air travel from outside Europe is “virtually nil” since the country's repatriation operations have ceased, said transport minister Elisabeth Borne.

Anyone boarding transport to France will have their international travel certificate checked.

Summer holidays

This is the question that many people are asking, but at the moment we simply don't know.

Various French politicians have responded to questions about holidays in July and August by telling the French not to make any plans for foreign holidays at the moment, while suggesting that holidays within France may be possible by the summer.

International travel was not even mentioned in the plan for phase 1 of loosening lockdown – which runs from May 11th to June 2nd.

It seems likely that travel could run on a different timetable and would be heavily dependent on the situation in other countries.  


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