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HEALTH

Eurostar in ‘critical condition’ after collapse in travel between UK and France

Eurostar, the train operator that runs services through the Channel Tunnel, is in 'a very critical' state after a collapse in travel between Britain and the European continent, a top French rail executive warned on Friday.

Eurostar in 'critical condition' after collapse in travel between UK and France
Photo: AFP

Until recently a symbol of easy high-speed rail travel in Europe, Eurostar has been crippled by the coronavirus crisis, with its special platforms and facilities in Paris, London and Brussels now eerily quiet.

The group is currently running just one service a day between Paris and London, a far cry from the time before Covid-19 when it would operate two trains an hour during peak times.

“I'm very worried about Eurostar,” Christophe Fanichet, a senior executive from France's state SNCF railways, which is the majority shareholder of Eurostar, told reporters.

“The company is in a critical state, I'd even say very critical,” added Fanichet, who heads SNCF Voyageurs, the passenger unit of the network.

He said the Eurostar's passenger numbers were down 85 percent in 2020 from the year earlier and that the group was now “on a drip” in need of extra cash to prevent it from collapsing.

All the while, travel restrictions keep getting tighter, with France announcing on Thursday that arrivals from Britain will need to observe a seven-day quarantine and undertake a PCR test at the end.

Britain already has a quarantine system in place.

READ ALSO UK travel ban – who can travel to France and what documents do they need?

 

Fanichet explained that the problem for the London-based group was that it was seen as French by the British government and as British by the French, meaning it had been difficult to secure bail-out cash.

“Given the passenger numbers, it's a group that has been hit more than airlines,” he said.

It was currently negotiating a government loan in Britain and could be further recapitalised via its shareholders.

In November, Eurostar chief executive Jacques Damas wrote that there was a “risk that this iconic service will be left to fail, threatening jobs, connectivity and reversing the progress to reduce travel emissions.”

Writing for the Independent newspaper, he said that €200 million had been already secured from its shareholders, but he called for more help from the British government.

The group is 55 percent owned by the SNCF, 30 percent by Canadian institutional fund manager Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ), 10 percent by Britain-based fund Hermes Infrastructure, and five percent by the Belgian railway SNCB.

Eurostar had been gradually expanding its services, with new lines opened up from London to Amsterdam, the Alps, the south of France and other destinations in recent years in addition to the regular lines between Paris and Brussels.

Member comments

  1. Agreed, Hlatswayo … BUT the “newer” Eurostar is horribly uncomfortable compared to the original one. And their pricing is very expensive and their reservation system is laughable … you cannot see the seating system unless you book Business class and then cancel it. But I still think it will survive. I know that the moment the border opens and hotels open many of us will go visit.

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HEALTH

French public urged to wear face masks again on public transport

With France in the middle of a new wave of Covid-19, the country's health minister has urged the public to once again wear face masks on public transport and in crowded spaces.

French public urged to wear face masks again on public transport

With cases on the rise again, French Health Minister Brigitte Bourguignon said she is “[asking] the French to put masks back on in transport” in an interview with RTL on Monday, 

For the time being, however, she stressed it was just advice, rather than an obligation, and masks have in fact been recommended on public transport since the legal requirement to wear them was lifted in May. 

However with France reporting over 50,000 daily cases of Covid-19 the government is clearly concerned by the current wave of the pandemic.

Bourguignon said that “we must protect ourselves and protect others,” adding that wearing a mask is “a civic gesture.”

She urged people to don their masks as soon as they see a crowded train or station.

READ MORE: Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

In addition to public transport, Bourguignon is also asking the French to once again mask-up in “all crowded, enclosed areas.”

Currently, masks are only required in hospitals, health centres and places that have vulnerable residents such as nursing homes. They are recommended in crowded spaces where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

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