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HEALTH

France suspends all travel from UK as ‘precautionary measure’ over new Covid strain

France has joined Germany and Italy in announcing a complete ban on travel from the UK after a new strain of Covid-19 was discovered. France will ban all road, rail, sea and air travel from the UK for an initial period of 48 hours.

France suspends all travel from UK as 'precautionary measure' over new Covid strain
Photo: AFP

France joins a long list of countries to have banned travel from the UK over fears of the new Covid strain, which the UK government says could be up to 70 percent more contagious.

France's health minister Oliver Véran said there was as yet no proof that the new variant is more contagious, but France was taking precautionary measures.

He told Europe 1 radio on Monday morning: “It's the same virus, but whose genetic code has been a little disrupted, […] which happens quite frequently.

“This variation of the virus has been identified in an area of England where we are also witnessing a high level of virus circulation.

“English scientists wonder whether this new variant could be more contagious than the others, they have no proof, but you understand that we take all the necessary precautions.”

Germany will also suspend air links with Britain “from midnight”, the health minister said on Sunday whilst in Italy Health Minister Roberto Speranza stated announced he had signed an ordinance “which blocks flights from Great Britain and prohibits entry into Italy of people who have stayed there during the last 14 days”.

France's ban covers travel by air, road, rail and sea and came into operation at midnight on Sunday.

READ ALSO France's UK travel ban – who is affected and what happens next?

Only unaccompanied freight will be allowed into France.

Transport from France to the UK is not affected.

The initial ban will be for 48 hours while France talks to fellow EU member states and works on putting in place extra controls at the border.

Transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on Monday morning that a protocol will be put in place “within the next few hours”.

 READ MORE: Germany to stop all flights in and out of UK starting midnight Sunday

READ MORE: Italy suspends air travel with UK over new coronavirus strain

The statement from French Prime Minister Jean Castex said: “The 48-hour time limit is intended to achieve two objectives:

“To allow time for coordination between EU Member States in order to define a common doctrine on the regulation and control of travel from the United Kingdom;

“To prepare operationally for the secure reopening of traffic flow from the United Kingdom from December 22nd, based on a mandatory testing system at the start of the journey.

“We will pay particular attention to the specific situation of French nationals who plan to return to France to spend the festive season with their families. We are already encouraging them to make arrangements for a PCR test in the coming days.”

 

The Netherlands, Ireland, Bulgaria, Austria and Belgium have already suspended flights from the UK.

France's government convened a meeting of the Defence Council – which deals with health restrictions – on Sunday evening to discuss the issue.

Discussions have been ongoing on Sunday between French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel in Brussels.

Germany announced on Sunday afternoon that it will ban all flights from the UK and South Africa – where the new virus strain has also been reported – from midnight on Sunday. The ban will last until January 6th.

The new variant of the Covid-19 virus is believed to have first appeared in the London and Kent areas in September, and is reported to be up to 70 percent more contagious than other strains.

The variant was cited by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the reason behind last-minute changes to health restrictions in London and South East England, announced on Saturday, which have seen thousands of people unable to travel as planned over Christmas.

The French government said: “It is not clear at this stage that the so-called “rapid” spread of this mutation in the United Kingdom is linked to an intrinsic property of this virus. The fact that this strain is more contagious has not been demonstrated at this stage.”

“However,” the statement added, “on Saturday December 19th, against the backdrop of the acceleration of the epidemic in the UK over the past few days, British health authorities notified the World Health Organisation (WHO) of the information that this mutation could possibly be more contagious than the other variants of SARS-CoV-2.

“This is why, following a Defence Council meeting chaired by the President, it was decided to suspend all passenger travel, including freight transport, by road, air, sea or rail from the United Kingdom for 48 hours from midnight (Paris time) this evening – December 20th.”

Following the UK's announcement on Saturday, the Dutch government announced on Sunday morning that it was banning all flights from the UK until January 1st.

The Belgian, Bulgarian and Italian governments followed suit, with Italy banning all flights from the UK and the entry of anyone who had been in the UK in the last 14 days.

Ireland has also announced it will be suspending all flights and ferries from the UK, for an initial period of 48 hours.

On the question of whether there should be a coordinated EU response, European commissioner Thierry Breton said the issue was one of individual member states to decide.

He said: “It is very difficult to take decisions for 456 million people at the same time. It is in Kent that we discover this change, but chould it have repercussions in the Czech Republic, Romania or Greece.

“We will continue, and this is our strength, to deal with our differences (…). It is the Member States that decide, and then we try to draw up the best practices to apply them.”

Most countries had specified that only air travel would be affected, but a large proportion of travel between France and the UK is via Eurostar, ferry or the Channel Tunnel – the French announcement makes it clear that all these methods of travel will be affected.

For most people, travel between the UK and France has only been possible since December 15th when France lifted its lockdown.

Travellers from the UK already face the possibility of a ban on non-essential travel from January 1st, when the UK will be outside the EU and therefore covered by the closure of the Bloc's external borders, which has been in place since March.

Member comments

  1. This mutations was only a matter of time. Thank you to all those who ignored advice about continuing to wear masks, keep social distance and large meetings, and washing hands. You’ve helped make a bad situation worse. It was simple, it was clear, but many people I saw in May/June ignored it. This new strain seems particularly virulent. I can’t see flight and train bans keeping it out of Europe for long.

  2. Just stop everything from the UK, all forms of transport. Every hour matters.

    EU should blanket ban all travel to and from UK.

  3. those Britons retreating towards the Channel ports should stay calm and gather along the promenades of Dunkirk & De Panne (Belgium) and await further orders as best they can. They should be reassured that HMG & Ministry of Defence (and with the kind supporting advice of senior People Trafficers) are doing their very best to ensure their safe return to Blighty hopefully by 31 December 2020. If they have access to a
    radio or internet there will be a message of support & encouragement from HM The Queen. No time is yet fixed. God speed all

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POLITICS

‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief. 

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