A ban on UK tourists entering France has been described as a “hammer blow” by travel firms.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced tough restrictions will be enforced from Saturday, including a requirement for “compelling reasons” to travel to or from the UK.
Trips for tourism or business will not be permitted, his office said in a statement.
All arrivals will need to provide evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken less than 24 hours in advance, and must isolate for at least two days.
The statement added: “In the face of the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the United Kingdom, the Government has chosen to reinstate compelling reasons for travel to and from the United Kingdom, and to strengthen the requirement for testing on departure and arrival.
“In the UK Government’s own words, the UK will face a ‘tidal wave’ linked to the Omicron variant in the coming days.”
This measures have thrown the Christmas travel plans for hundreds of thousands of people into chaos.
Eurostar saw a surge in bookings by travellers desperate to reach France before the Saturday deadline.
It sold out its standard class compartments on several of its London to Paris trains departing on Friday.
Tickets for earlier trains cost £195 each, whereas fares for travel over the weekend once the new restrictions are in force are available from only £86.
Aviation analytics firm Cirium said there are 540 flights scheduled between the UK and France in the seven days before Christmas Day, with a total of more than 93,000 seats.
EasyJet’s three flights from Gatwick to Paris Charles de Gaulle on Friday were sold out.
Cross-Channel ferry operators have also seen a surge in demand for sailings from the UK to France before Saturday.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said hauliers will be exempt from the new rules.
He posted on Twitter: “To confirm I have liaised with my French counterpart (Jean-Baptiste Djebbari) and hauliers will remain exempt.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel trade association Abta, described the French travel restrictions as a “hammer blow”.
He said: “The winter sports and school travel markets are particularly exposed, and the Government must now bring forward a support package if we are not to see company failures and job losses.
“The travel and tourism sector has had little chance to generate income since early 2020 and is now faced with another wave of cancellations.”
— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) December 16, 2021
Eurostar said in a statement that “we understand and fully support” the need for governments to tighten travel rules in the interests of public health, but once a variant is being spread within communities “it is difficult to see what further purpose such restrictions serve”.
The company added: “It is important that they are not in place any longer than is absolutely evidenced and necessary.”
A spokesman for ferry operator Brittany Ferries said: “In the context of an Omicron variant that is passing through the French population as it is in the UK, further border controls seem as unnecessary as they are unwelcome.”
Downing Street signalled there were no plans to ban French travellers from the UK.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We think, given the rising Omicron cases around the world, a red list and sort of tighter border measures wouldn’t be effective or proportionate in slowing the import of Omicron from abroad.”
The variant is surging in the UK, with daily confirmed Covid-19 cases reaching a record high of 78,610 on Wednesday.