The post-Christmas suspension of French police against Britons trying to pass through France by cars fuels further chaos for passengers affected by Covid restrictions, while the EU is trying to curb growing cases of the Omicron variant.
France banned by British tourists since entering the country in mid-December in an attempt to slow the spread of Omicron, which has caused a wave of ski holiday cancellations and causing travel disruptions to anyone without French citizenship or residence documents.
But Britons trying to reach other parts of the EU – including workers and residents in countries like Belgium hoping to return through France via the Eurotunnel – are also breaking the rules after new instructions were provided to French border police clarifying that the measures people in transit.
“It is a matter of strict application of the same rules, with all the difficulties that this entails,” said one French police official, adding that the border forces had received new guidelines on how to implement measures after Christmas as travel resumed.
Confusion over the rules ahead of the holiday season has meant some passengers have slipped through and are now hoping to return to other parts of the EU via France, the official added. “One of the difficulties is that a lot of people have left [for the UK] before the rules have changed and they have problems returning. ”
The Eurotunnel, which operates a shuttle service that allows people to drive their cars to and from Folkestone to Calais, warned British passengers on Wednesday that unless they have French residence documents, they can no longer pass through France by car. The restrictions do not apply to EU citizens.
“Following a decision by the French government on 28 December 2021, unless they have a French residence, British citizens are now considered third-country nationals and can no longer pass through France by road to reach their EU country of residence,” said the Eurotunnel.
Infections in France recently jumped to record highs in part caused by the more portable variant of Omicron, which ministers described as causing a “tidal wave” of cases.
The daily number of cases in France on Wednesday reached more than 208,000, the highest level since the start of the pandemic, a European record. However, the French Interior Ministry declined to comment on travel restrictions even when it could end.
British government officials said they were urgently seeking clarification from the French government on transit rules.
Roland Moore, director of public relations and a resident of Belgium who was this week Facing back while trying to take his car for transport from the UK to France, he said the sudden change in interpretation and lack of warning was confusing after he managed to travel backwards earlier in December.
“Seven days ago it was okay, but a week later without prior notice it wasn’t good,” Moore said, adding that he understands, however, that the French have taken steps to try to solve the growing number of Covid cases.
Moore managed to reach Belgium by Eurostar train, which also passes through France, and left the car with his family in the UK.
Changes in the measures of the British and French borders have become particularly sensitive since Britain left the EU.
France banned all passengers and trucks from the United Kingdom from entering 48 hours before Christmas 2020, in a separate attempt to control a new strain of coronavirus that emerged at the time, which many passengers considered excessively punishable.
Political disputes over how to control the Anglo-French border have since erupted over the issue of migration and dangerous sea crossings.
According to the rules, Britons can pass through French airports in less than 24 hours or arrive at their destination by train.