A French government minister has described the decision to keep stricter quarantine measures in place for fully vaccinated travellers arriving in England from his country as discriminatory and incomprehensible.
The Europe minister Clément Beaune criticised the decision after England, Scotland and Wales announced plans to significantly reduce restrictions on international travel for those who have been fully vaccinated. Northern Ireland is yet to announce whether it will follow suit.
Given France is on the “amber plus” list, a special category on the traffic light system that grades countries according to their case, variant and vaccine rate, it is the only European country excluded from the change that will take effect from next Monday.
Travellers from the remaining 26 EU member states, as well as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, plus the European microstates, along with the US, will be able to skip quarantine if they can provide proof of inoculation when coming from an amber-list country.
Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, said he hoped France would be moved off the amber plus list and on to amber as quickly as possible – a move the Guardian understands is likely.
Meanwhile, Spain is at risk of being added to the amber plus list, although decisions about reviewing these countries are not expected to be made until next week, coming into force on Monday 9 August.
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Raab did not deny that the government had been advised opening up the border presented a significant public health risk, only saying ministers were given a “range of advice” from scientists that was “checked very carefully” in a meeting on Wednesday.
He said it was only a “modest opening up of international travel” that was “smart and sensible”, although he admitted he could not rule out some people arriving from the US trying to forge the vaccine card that they will need to present as proof of inoculation.
Defending France’s position on the amber plus list, Raab said the prevalence of the Beta variant on the mainland and in France’s Indian Ocean territory Réunion had caused concern. Responding to criticism that Réunion’s cases should not be taken so heavily into account, he said: “It’s not the distance that matters, it’s the ease of travel between different component parts of any individual country.”
He said the government wanted “to get France up the traffic light system as quickly as possible”.
Beaune said the decision to exclude France was “excessive”, telling the TV station LCI TV: “It’s frankly incomprehensible on health grounds. It’s not based on science and discriminatory towards the French. I hope it will be reviewed as soon as possible; it’s just common sense.”
Meanwhile, Raab also confirmed that travellers who had been fully vaccinated with the Chinese Sinopharm or Russian Sputnik V jab would not be able to avoid quarantine.
He said the only people eligible were those who had had full doses of a vaccine approved by the US Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency.
The announcement will hit some travellers, given that Sputnik and Sinopharm are among the vaccines available to people in countries including Hungary.
There are reports that government scientific advisers had warned the jabs could undermine those already approved for use in the UK.
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