France considers stricter controls for UK travellers to combat spread of Indian Covid variant

 French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France is on "high alert" for the Indian variant -  PAUL FAITH/AFP
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France is on "high alert" for the Indian variant - PAUL FAITH/AFP

France may impose tougher restrictions on British travellers as part of an effort to curb the spread of the more contagious Covid-19 Indian variant.

Jean Yves-Le Drian, the country’s foreign affairs minister, told French radio station RTL on Sunday that the government would not rule out “slightly stricter” measures for visitors coming from the United Kingdom.

“We worry about the Indian variant and we remain on high alert regarding that matter, in cooperation with British authorities,” Mr Le Drian said.

While no official announcement has been made, Mr Le Drian said it may mean the UK would be classified as a medium-risk country, referring to the colour-coded traffic light system used to determine which quarantine measures and other restrictions travellers fall into.

Mr Le Drian stopped short of saying the UK would be classified as a ‘red’ country, but suggested it could be considered ‘yellow.’

The news comes just one day after Germany’s Health Ministry announced that the UK was an “area of variant concern.”

Starting Sunday at midnight, only German citizens and residents travelling from the UK are allowed to enter the country.

Others will be turned away unless they have an essential reason for travel.

More than 3,850 cases of the Indian variant have been detected in the UK, with a 160 percent increase in new cases over the last seven days.

A paper presented to the UK government earlier this month said the Indian variant could be up to 50 percent more transmissible than the original strain.

“At this point in the vaccine rollout, there are still too few adults vaccinated to prevent a significant resurgence that ultimately could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS,” the paper said.

Even with the potential increased risk of transmissibility, some health experts said travel restrictions would do little to prevent the spread of new variants.

“Closing the border will have no effect whatsoever,” said Catherine Hill, an epidemiologist at Gustave Roussy Hospital in Paris.

She said people who are determined to travel will find ways to circumvent restrictions, such as flying to nearby countries, then hopping on a train or bus.

“It’s just meaningless. If travellers really want to go see their old parents or if they really want to meet a friend, they will find a way,” Hill said, adding that for now there was “no cause for serious alarm” regarding the Indian variant.

Preliminary evidence suggests vaccines are still effective against the Indian variant.

There are very few confirmed cases of the Indian variant in France so far, but health experts worry it is spreading.

France’s public health agency recorded 38 new outbreaks in the last seven days, a 60 percent increase from the week before.

Three of the outbreaks were from family clusters with no known link to India, meaning it is unclear if it was spread on French soil.

For now, the French public health agency concluded, there was still “no evidence of significant community spread” in France.