British quarantine sparks France exodus, run on wine
British holidaymakers in France scrambled Friday to get home, many with large stocks of wine, after their government's late-night announcement of a coronavirus quarantine for arrivals from across the English Channel.
It came in a tweet just before midnight Thursday and its suddenness caught many by surprise: starting at 04:00 am (0200 GMT) Saturday, everyone arriving from France and a handful of other countries will have to self-isolate for two weeks, transport minister Grant Shapps said.
The move left people for whom quarantine is not an option with no choice but to rush home, and trains and ferries soon filled up.
"When I woke up this morning at about 06:00 am, I looked at my phone and everyone said: 'You'll have to go into quarantine'," retiree Paul Trower told AFP at the ferry terminal in Calais, northern France -- one end of the shortest route across the Channel.
"So we decided to try and book a ferry, cancel our holiday and come home to avoid it because my wife works and I look after my granddaughter."
The Calais port authority said that ferry companies would boost their capacity from 500 to 750 passengers per trip Friday.
And port president Jean-Marc Puissesseau told AFP he had "asked the ferry companies to accept as many passenger vehicles as possible" and to increase trips, if possible.
"A 24-hour notice of a quarantine is far too short to allow everyone to organise themselves, and I reported this regret to the UK ambassador this morning," he said.
At the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris, too, many were annoyed at having to cut their visits short.
"I had to change my tickets, I was planning on leaving on the 24th," said Cameron Kenneally, who frequently visits France to see his partner -- the date of their next encounter now unknown.
"If I were to be quarantined, I couldn't be, because my work only allows a week off," Kenneally said.
- Situation 'deteriorating'-
Tickets for the cross-Channel Eurostar train were snapped up on Friday morning at a minimum price of 241 euros ($285) one way -- between 25 and 182 percent more expensive than tickets on sale for the following days.
Britain announced the quarantine as France on Thursday reported 2,669 confirmed new coronavirus infections in 24 hours -- the highest daily increase since the country's lockdown ended in May.
Coronavirus admissions to hospitals and intensive care were also on the rise after a long period of decline.
Jerome Salomon, the head of France's national health agency, said Friday: "The indicators are bad, the signals are worrying and the situation is deteriorating."
The country has reported more than 30,300 deaths due to the COVID-19 epidemic.
William Robertson, whose parents live in France, said he understood the British measure, but it was "very sudden."
"It was just complicated to take seats yesterday on the Eurostar website, everyone was connected at the same time," he said in Paris.
France is one of the top holiday destinations for Britons, of whom there were an estimated 160,000 in the country at the time the quarantine was announced, according to the British government.
It is also common to come on daytrips to buy French wines, cheaper than at home, and many were seen stocking up Friday at liquor stores around the port of Calais.
"We couldn't fit anymore in the car even if we wanted to... so fingers crossed that in six months the quarantine is lifted and we can come back," said Briton Paul Musson, as he loaded boxes of wine into his car.
As he prepared to board a ferry home, fellow Brit Vince McKeown said he had heard of many people struggling to find tickets.
"It is unfortunate and I think it has spread panic," he told AFP.
But, "a decision has been made and I don’t want to be locked in my home for 14 days if I don’t get back at the right time."
- Lost wine sales -
For Olivier Versmisse, who runs a liquor store in Calais, the prospect of losing his foreign clientele was "very bad news".
"The Brits have been back for a few months... And now its starting all over again with the quarantine and people will stop coming. We have already had cancelled orders."
The move also spells further hardship for travel companies, with Anglo-Spanish airline holding company IAG describing it as "yet another blow for British holidaymakers" that "cannot fail to have an impact on an already troubled aviation industry".
Industry association Airlines UK bemoaned "another devastating blow to the travel industry," and Brittany Ferries CEO Christophe Mathieu said "a very bad season is going to get even worse."
France has said it would impose a reciprocal quarantine on people arriving from Britain, but has not announced a start date.