France removes final countries from ‘scarlet’ list to ease Covid travel rules

France has removed the final three countries - including South Africa - from its 'scarlet' list, opening up travel again for people who are fully vaccinated.

Restrictions have been loosened for vaccinated travellers coming from South Africa to France.
Restrictions have been loosened for vaccinated travellers coming from South Africa to France. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)

South Africa was one of 10 countries put on the newly created ‘scarlet list’ in December, over fears of the Omicron variant – the list imposed extremely tough restrictions on travel, within even fully vaccinated people only allowed to travel if they fit one of the narrow criteria for ‘essential journeys’.

But the French government issued a decree on Thursday moving South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini from the “scarlet” list to the “red” list. Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia and Maritius had previously been moved to the red list, meaning there are currently no countries classified as ‘scarlet’.

The UK is not technically classified as scarlet, but France has also imposed harsh restrictions that ban virtually all travel – although there are signs that these too could be relaxed soon.

Vaccinated travellers coming from South Africa and other former scarlet list countries no longer need an essential reason to travel to France and do not need to isolate for ten days upon arrival. Unvaccinated travellers still need an essential reason and must complete the quarantine. 

READ MORE France’s new Covid test rules for all non-EU arrivals

All travellers coming from South Africa must hold a negative PCR or antigen test result taken no more than 48 hours before travelling to mainland France, or 24 hours before travelling to French overseas territories. 

People travelling to French overseas territories like Mayotte or La Réunion still need to have an “essential reason” for travel, whether vaccinated or not. Tourism is not deemed an essential reason for travel.  

South Africa had been placed on the “scarlet red” list in November because of soaring Omicron cases in the country – but France now has record Omicron cases of its own. While France recorded 335,000 new Covid cases in 24 hours on Wednesday, South Africa is hovering at around 11,000 new daily cases – although it does test significantly less. 

READ MORE How does France’s Covid traffic light system for travel work?

The decision to remove South Africa from the ‘scarlet’ list comes after France has announced it would also be loosening travel restrictions on people coming from the UK. 

Speaking after the regular meeting of ministers on Wednesday, French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said that France government had “decided to expand the list of compelling reasons – in particular professional reasons.” 

Attal did not specify exactly when this change would come into place but floated the idea that it could come as soon as next week.

The next key date in the tourism calendar is the February school holiday, a time particularly important for the ski industry, where resorts are usually busy with both domestic and international visitors.

READ MORE UK government to relax Covid testing rules for arrivals from Europe

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EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Two major changes that were due to come into force in 2022 for travellers entering the EU - an enhanced passport scanning system and the introduction of a €7 visa for tourists - have been delayed for a year.

EU delays passport scan system and €7 travel fee until 2023

Although both the EES and ETIAS schemes are still due to be introduced in the European Commission has pushed back the start dates for both until 2023.

It comes amid a chaotic summer for travel in Europe, with airports struggling with staff shortages and strikes while some crossings from the UK to France have been hit by long delays as extra post-Brexit checks are performed during the peak holiday season. 

The two separate changes to travel in the EU and Schengen zone were originally due to come into effect in 2020, but were delayed because of the pandemic. Now the EES system is expected to come into effect in May 2023, while ETIAS will come into effect in November 2023. 

The EES – Entry and Exit System – is essentially enhanced passport scanning at the EU’s borders and means passports will not only be checked for ID and security, but also for entry and exit dates, in effect tightening up enforcement of the ’90 day rule’ that limits the amount of time non-EU citizens can spend in the Bloc without having a visa.

It will not affect non-EU citizens who live in an EU country with a residency permit or visa.

There have been concerns that the longer checks will make transiting the EU’s external borders slower, a particular problem at the UK port of Dover, where the infrastructure is already struggling to cope with enhanced post-Brexit checks of people travelling to France.

You can read a full explanation of EES, what it is and who is affects HERE.

The ETIAS system will apply to all non-EU visitors to an EU country – eg tourists, second-home owners, those making family visits and people doing short-term work.

It will involve visitors registering in advance for a visa and paying a €7 fee. The visa will be valid for three years and can be used for multiple trips – essentially the system is very similar to the ESTA visa required for visitors to the USA. 

Residents of an EU country who have a residency card or visa will not need one.

You can read the full details on ETIAS, how it works and who it affects HERE.

Both systems will apply only to people who do not have citizenship of an EU country – for example Brits, Americans, Australians and Canadians – and will be used only at external EU/Schengen borders, so it won’t be required when travelling between France and Germany, for example.