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Breakingviews - UK quarantine surprise spoils more than holidays

Passengers wearing protective face masks arrive from Paris at Eurostar terminal at St Pancras station, as Britain imposes a 14-day quarantine on arrival from France from Saturday, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain August 14, 2020.

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - If dealing with the highest excess death toll in Europe wasn’t bad enough, Brits may have to spend the rest of summer enduring the local weather too. A government quarantine on arrivals from France will sadden holidaymakers - and could also contribute to the UK’s political isolation from Europe.

The UK authorities said that rising infection rates justified the sudden decision to impose two weeks self-isolation on anyone arriving from France, the Netherlands or Malta. The new measures are particularly painful for l’Hexagone, Brits’ second most visited country after Spain.

The new move is a setback to French President Emmanuel Macron’s planned reboot of the tourist sector, which accounts for around 9% of French economic output. UK travellers accounted for 15% of arrivals in 2018. If cross-channel visits stopped entirely, something like 1% of French GDP could vanish.

Of course, nothing that dramatic is likely, even if the restrictions endure. Many Brits will choose to take their chances and put up with some inconvenience, rather than abandon cherished holiday plans.

Whatever the damage caused directly by this move, the UK government’s willingness to slap down broad restrictions suggests a longer and slower recovery of the European tourist trade. Shares in airlines UK-listed easyJet, International Consolidated Airlines and Ireland’s Ryanair fell by between 5%-7% on Friday morning.

For the British, more may be at stake than lost vacations. With travel within the European Union still largely open, the move solidifies the UK’s isolation from the continent in the midst of final negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal. The French government has already threatened unspecified “reciprocal” measures to counter the travel restrictions. Isolation can speed up the spread of economic ill will.

Breakingviews

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