By Matthieu Protard
PARIS (Reuters) -France on Wednesday declared a mandatory quarantine period for people coming from Britain, due to the increasing prevalence there of a highly contagious coronavirus variant first detected in India.
France follows Austria, which said on Tuesday it was banning direct flights and tourist visits from Britain, and Germany, which said on Friday that anyone entering from the UK would have to quarantine for two weeks on arrival.
"There is a new situation with the progression of the so-called Indian variant in the United Kingdom," said government spokesman Gabriel Attal. "(France) will set up compulsory isolation for people coming from the United Kingdom."
The isolation will need to last seven days, Clement Beaune, France's junior minister for European Affairs, said on Twitter, adding visitors would also need to present a COVID-19 test carried out less than 48 hours before departure.
The measures are expected to come into force on Monday.
Coronavirus infections in Britain have been rising again, but the overall incidence is still low in a country with one of the world's fastest vaccine rollouts. The number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients fell last week to its lowest level since September.
Clusters of the B.1.617 Indian variant have grown quickly, however, to 3,424 as of last Thursday, up by 2,111 from similar numbers the previous week. The Indian variant has been reported in at least 17 countries.
The French government's announcement will be a blow to parts of the beleaguered tourism industry, which is desperate for a return to normal business ahead of the peak summer season.
"It's reasonable in terms of saving the French summer but will be very punishing for those regions which depend on British holidaymakers," said Ge Kusters, owner of Le Paradis campsite in the Dordogne area and president of the regional campsite union.
"More financial support is going to have to follow."
British tourists had been due to be allowed to visit France without restrictions from June 9 if they carried a certificate of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 PCR test.
Some 13 million Britons visited France every year before the coronavirus crisis began in early 2020, more than any other nationality, according to official data.
(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Matthieu Protard; Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Dominique Vidalon, Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney)