France and Germany were today accused of hypocrisy after pushing to keep British holidaymakers out of Europe this summer, despite the Indian variant already being on the rise in both nations.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron urged all EU states to follow their lead in making it mandatory for UK travellers to quarantine, regardless of whether they have been jabbed or not.
The bid to tighten the bloc’s defences comes amid fears about the ultra-infectious Indian ‘Delta’ variant which has taken off far quicker in Britain than the rest of the continent.
But data shows prevalence of the mutant strain is growing exponentially in Germany and is accounting for up to 70 per cent of new cases in some regions in the South West of France.
Dr Simon Clarke, a microbiologist at the University of Reading, told MailOnline the Franco-German stance was ‘an attempt to close the stable door after the horse has bolted’. He said previous waves had shown overly-strict border controls between European countries cannot keep out new variants because they are so closely tied in trade, business and travel.
Nationally, the Indian variant only makes up 15 per cent of infections in Germany currently and cases are still trending downwards. But official data shows the proportion of infections made up of the Delta strain have doubled every seven days for the past three weeks.
French Government figures show 10 per cent of all new Covid cases are the virulent variant, but seven in 10 of new cases in the southwestern region of Landes, on the Atlantic coast. Landes is recording more than 50 Covid cases per 100,000 population in total which is double the national rate. It is also the only area in France where infection rates are climbing.
The situation in Landes has echoes of how the Indian variant was first seeded in the North West of England and spread around Britain from April.
Currently, those travelling from Britain to Greece, Spain and Portugal are not required to quarantine. Spain is letting Britons in without having to produce a PCR test.
The UK’s hugely successful vaccination programme – which has seen more than 80 per cent of adults jabbed and 60 per cent fully vaccinated – means the majority of the population are protected from the Indian variant and less likely to spread it.
The UK’s infection rate is trending in the opposite direction of those in France and Germany. The number of daily cases per million in Britain stands at 165, compared to France’s 31 and Germany’s 10
But the UK leads the way both in terms of how many first jabs it has dished out per person and also how many people it has fully vaccinated
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German Government agency steering its Covid response, said today that the Indian variant accounted for 15 per cent of all new cases as of June 13. Although prevalence is still low, it is the third week in a row that the proportion of cases being made up by the variant have doubled
Angela Merkel (pictured with Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit) has called on other European countries to force UK travellers to quarantine on arrival
Dr Clarke told MailOnline: ‘The Indian variant is already in Germany, France and the rest of Europe and it will highly likely continue spreading, even without quarantine [for travelling Brits].
‘Just as we’ve had regionalised hotspots it appears France does too, and I suspect other countries will do in time, as well.
‘Our globalised and connected way of life in Europe means there’s going to be people mixing in different countries and even if they don’t come places where the variant originated, it will come from a third party country.’
He suggested that Britain was being punished for its world-leading surveillance capabilities which have seen it pick up on variants long before they are discovered by other countries.
‘They [Germany and France] are neglecting the fact that Britain has good surveillance. Other countries don’t have such good surveillance so it’s entirely possible these variants are in other countries and they just don’t know it yet.’
In a study published last week, French researchers warned that cases of the Indian variant were likely to have been underestimated because of its weak genomic sequencing capacity.
Let us fly again! Furious pilots march on Westminster
Hundreds of travel workers including pilots and business owners marched on Westminster yesterday to demand that ministers ease restrictions threatening the industry.
They called on the Prime Minister to expand the quarantine-free travel green list at today’s review and make it easier for fully-vaccinated Britons to go on holiday. They warned huge numbers of jobs are at risk and called for the furlough scheme to be extended beyond September if current restrictions continue.
Hundreds of travel workers including pilots and business owners marched on Westminster yesterday to demand that ministers ease restrictions threatening the industry (pictured)
Pilots and cabin crew who have been grounded for over a year were joined by travel business owners who told of being on the brink.
Pictured: Virgin Air Crew at a protest outside the Houses of Parliament where the travel industry is protesting to MPs showing they are not happy about continued travel restrictions
Around 400 protesters gathered outside the Commons as part of a Travel Day Of Action. Demonstrations were also held outside Holyrood and Stormont to lobby the Scottish and Northern Ireland governments and at airports including Bristol and Manchester.
Senior Tory MPs joined the Westminster protest, including Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Sir Graham Brady, former minister Steve Baker and transport committee chairman Huw Merriman, who called on ministers to use the success of the vaccine rollout to reboot international travel.
Richard Mann, 56, a pilot for travel giant Tui, said it was the biggest crisis the aviation industry had ever faced, stressing: ‘Everyone’s worried for their livelihoods.
‘If there was a clear reason for travel being shut down to the extent it is now, we would take that on the chin, but there just doesn’t seem to be.
‘Infection rates in the Balearic Islands and others are lower than we have here, so why are they shut off?
‘You see thousands packing themselves on to Bournemouth beach. Is that keeping people safe? It doesn’t make sense.’
Mark Tanzer, of travel industry group Abta, said some members had been forced to take new jobs as call centre workers and Amazon delivery drivers to make ends meet, adding: ‘It’s really heart-breaking.’
Sir Graham said ministers must ensure a ‘viable summer season’ is salvaged. He insisted: ‘There are over one million jobs at stake – as well as people’s freedom to see their family overseas or to go on holiday.’ Mr Merriman warned: ‘The sector is haemorrhaging jobs.’
The French study said that while the UK had sequenced 49,000 samples of the Delta variant at the time, France had analysed just 176. France is only looking at a third of all positive tests for variant.
Meanwhile, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German Government agency steering its Covid response, said today that the Indian variant accounted for 15 per cent of all new cases as of June 13.
Although prevalence is still low, it is the third week in a row that the proportion of cases being made up by the variant have doubled.
The RKI said: ‘The proportion of variant B.1.617.2 (Delta) continues to increase and the proportion of this VOC (variant of concern) doubled within one week.
‘The current distribution of the variants in Germany shows that it can be expected that the VOC B.1.617.2 [Delta variant] can be expected to prevail over the other variants.’
But it is true that the UK’s infection rate is trending in the opposite direction of those in France and Germany. The number of daily cases per million in Britain stands at 165, compared to France’s 31 and Germany’s 10.
At a summit in Brussels today, Ms Merkel urged all EU states to follow Germany’s lead by requiring travellers from the UK to quarantine.
‘I will lobby for a more co-ordinated approach, particularly with regard to entries from regions where virus variants abound.
Mr Macron echoed her hard line, saying: ‘We must all be vigilant because the much-talked-about Delta variant is coming, which spreads much more rapidly than the other variants and affects people who are not vaccinated or who only have had one dose.
‘For me, one of the issues of discussion is to be really taking co-ordinated decisions in terms of opening of borders to third countries and on recognising vaccines because at this stage we have to limit this to the vaccines that have been approved by the European medical authority.’
Britain’s Environment Secretary George Eustice condemned the stance taken by Ms Merkel and Mr Macron.
‘I’m not sure that such an approach would be justified given the highly advanced stage we are currently at now in terms of vaccination, with 80 per cent having had one jab and now 60 per cent having had the second jab,’ he told LBC radio.
‘I don’t think such a move would be justified but obviously it’s for individual countries to make these judgments.’ On a visit to Aldershot, Mr Johnson dodged directly criticising Mrs Merkel’s comments.
He said: ‘Let’s see where we get to with all this. I think that the real opportunity we all have now is to open up travel through the double jab.
‘We’ve got more than 60 per cent of our population have now had two jabs, 83 per cent have had one jab, we’re really getting through it now.
‘I’m not going to claim that this summer, for travel purposes, is going to be like any other summer. I don’t want to cast a pall over things but, as I said the other day, it will be different.’
More than five million Brits visit Mallorca, Ibiza and Menorca in a normal year. Scientists have signed off on declaring the Balearics safe enough for the green list, which would be a welcome relief for the travel industry.
However, there are lingering fears that the Government could overrule the advice, as it did when Malta was put forward for approval last month.
If there is agreement, tourists could be able to travel as soon as next Tuesday without isolating for up to 10 days on return.
Turkey is expected to remain on the red list, which could also see the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Uganda added while Israel could move from green to amber.
There are also reports that the number of expensive tests needed by returning holidaymakers will be slashed.
Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the Future of Aviation Group, said: ‘Frankly, these destinations should already be on the green list along with many others.
It is a nonsense that people are not able to travel freely to countries that have lower rates of infection than we do.’
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: ‘It’s now or never if we are to have any sort of summer season and the data shows this can be done safely and proportionately with many more countries being added to the list.
‘The future of our aviation industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports depends on it.’
Culture minister John Whittingdale hinted at positive news yesterday, saying: ‘Hopefully it will be possible to increase that number’ of countries on the green list.
Green list status is only allocated to destinations that can show they have low Covid rates and no significant problems with variants of concern. They also have to show that they can monitor for new variants.
Government scientists advised last month that Malta could be added to the green list, only to be overruled by ministers led by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Latest figures suggest infection rates on the island are less than half those in the UK.
Ministers are also close to an agreement on the plan to end quarantine requirements for the fully vaccinated. It is seen as the best chance for saving the travel sector this summer and would require travellers to prove their vaccination status either using the NHS app or with a paper record from their GP.
The Cabinet is split on the timing with some ministers favouring a July 19 start date and others wanting a more cautious approach. The so-called ‘doves’ are believed to include Matt Hancock, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab.
A Government source said August is the most likely date but no final decision has been taken.
However, the impact of the UK’s decisions will be blunted by the draconian restrictions still being imposed by other countries.
Berlin has banned travellers from Britain entering unless they are a German citizen, have residency rights or if there is an ‘urgent humanitarian reason’ like a family death.
But those allowed in still have to register to get permission to visit and quarantine for two weeks with no option for early release after a negative test.
It comes after Italy reintroduced quarantine and testing requirements for all UK arrivals amid growing concerns in Europe about the spread of the Indian, or Delta, variant, now dominant in the UK.
Health minister Roberto Speranza said on Friday that Italy will require all travellers from Britain to quarantine for five days upon arrival.
A negative test is required at the end of the five-day period. America currently still bans UK tourists amid the surge in Delta cases.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious diseases expert, last week suggested that UK-US travel would only reopen in September as a result.
Portugal, Spain and Greece are still allowing UK holidaymakers to visit with proof of a negative test and no quarantine. France is also allowing in fully vaccinated Britons with a negative test.
But European health officials say further action is needed to curb the spread of the Delta variant as it gains a hold on the Continent.
This month it accounted for 70 per cent of sequenced cases in the greater Lisbon region of Portugal, more than 20 per cent in Italy and about 16 per cent in Belgium. It has also been detected in clusters in Germany, France and Spain.