France to bring in tougher travel restrictions, stands by Brazil flight suspension

France this week suspended flights from Brazil.

France to bring in tougher travel restrictions, stands by Brazil flight suspension

PARIS ­— France will on Monday announce tougher restrictions for people arriving from countries with a dominant, high-risk COVID-19 variant, according to government spokesperson Gabrial Attal.

“The president of the republic asked the government this morning to build a coherent strategy that will be presented next Monday and puts in place more robust controls and is inspired by what we’re currently doing for Brazil,” Attal said at his weekly press conference following a Cabinet meeting. These new controls would apply to travelers arriving from countries with high infection numbers and where a high-risk COVID-19 variant is dominant.

France has already temporarily suspended flights from Brazil where a virulent strain of the coronavirus is circulating, while it explores other possible health measures. 

“It makes sense [to suspend flights] because it reduces connections,” Clément Beaune, the junior minister for European affairs, said on French television. He also acknowledged “there is no one perfect solution” and “some risk of bypassing” the rules.

Travelers wanting to come to France can still layover in another Schengen country given not all other states in the free movement zone have suspended flights.

Asked about the need for more EU coordination on the subject, Beaune said health should come first.

“It’s an emergency and precautionary measure, and for the most high-risk countries including Brazil we are looking at putting in place … tighter systems” as an alternative, including more stringent controls at arrival such as compulsory quarantine, though he said these controls were more difficult to enforce on large numbers of people and their use was limited by the constitution to specific cases.

Risks of the Brazilian variant spreading further have been the subject of intense news coverage in recent days. French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Tuesday that France was suspending flights from Brazil, because “the harmfulness of the Brazilian variant poses real challenges.”

Government officials discussed the issue Wednesday morning in a high-level, closed door meeting with President Emmanuel Macron.

“When there is a need to act swiftly, we try to coordinate but we won’t have our health measures depend on EU27 [coordination],” Beaune said. “To be clear, all across Europe today there are very restrictive measures toward Brazil,” Beaune said, laying out two categories of countries — some, like France, Portugal and Spain, with frequent flight connections to Brazil, suspended flights, and others “like Germany or Italy who didn’t suspend but have banned entry or put in place very tough quarantine measures.”

The government didn’t specify how long flights would be suspended.

The flight suspension is “temporary, while we find the right set-up, and while we consolidate it,” a Castex adviser said Tuesday night.

Since January, France has also required a negative PCR test from travelers coming from within Europe, which, to Beaune’s mind, “is already a guarantee that no one enters on our territory without a good reason and without a health check.”

So far, travelers from Brazil were asked to self-isolate for 10 days upon arrival in France, without any formal enforcement.

The French government is looking into alternative solutions for French citizens in Brazil who wish to return to France, given they have a constitutional right to return to their home country.

Pauline de Saint Remy contributed reporting.

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