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Is France likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?

The Local France
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Is France likely to reinstate Covid travel restrictions?
Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

France has joined a growing list of countries to announce compulsory Covid tests for travellers from China - but are we likely to see a return to tighter controls on travel from other countries?

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With a crashing sense of déjà vu, dozens of countries announced over the weekend that they would introduce tighter restrictions on arrivals from China, over fears of new Covid variants.

But is this just a short-term and country-specific measure, or the first step towards a return to the 2021 world of travel restrictions, vaccine passports and ever-changing 'red list' and 'green list' countries?

What are the current rules?

Until Friday's announcement, France had relaxed all its Covid-related travel rules - so tests, attestations and proof of vaccine status were no longer part of the travel experience.

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This remains the case for travellers from all countries apart from China.

Travellers from China must, from January 5th, show a negative Covid test (PCR or antigen) taken within the last 48 hours in order to board a flight to France, as well as a declaration sur l'honneur that they have no Covid symptoms and have not been in contact with Covid patients. Masks are once again compulsory on flights from China. Since Sunday, travellers from China have also been offered Covid tests on arrival in France.

The rules affect direct travel and those who have arrived via a connecting flight, but the on-arrival tests are currently only being conducted at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, the only French airport with routes from China.

Why are they in place?

China is reporting very high numbers of Covid cases since it began to ease its very strict lockdown rules.

Seemingly of more concern to Europe is the possibility of new variants circulating in China, and there have been accusations - denied by Beijing - that China has not been transparent with its medical data. 

What next?

EU countries including France, Italy and Spain have gone ahead and imposed their own rules - along with many non-EU countries including the UK and US - but the EU is keen to co-ordinate travel rules, rather than return to the confusing hotch-potch of different restrictions seen at the beginning of 2021.

A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Brussels to address the concerns and try to come up with a co-ordinated strategy for EU countries.

"The idea is to harmonise, but without being extremely prescriptive," an insider told Politico. Despite the introduction of the EU digital vaccine pass, EU countries never managed to entirely harmonise their travel rules during the pandemic.

Could measures be extended? 

At present those countries which have imposed restrictions had concentrated on compulsory testing and mask-wearing - no-one has yet put in restrictions on unvaccinated travellers, or blanket travel restrictions such as the 'red lists' seen last year. 

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These options are not on the table for Wednesday's Brussels meeting, but borders are a national competence so countries could unilaterally impose them if they believe it necessary.

The EU digital vaccine pass is still in operation, while France's TousAntiCovid health pass remains active and is regularly updated.

Most EU countries have a high rate of vaccination, so it seems likely that restrictive measures such as travel bans would only be enacted if it is found that new variants - against which the current vaccines are not effective - are emerging from China, or any other country.  

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