Europe Minister discusses lifting of restrictions in UK
European affairs – COVID-19 – Excerpts from the interview given by M. Clément Beaune, Minister of State for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to BFMTV/RMC
Paris, 19 July 2021
Q. – The English dubbed today, Monday, “Freedom Day”, the end of nearly all health restrictions at a time when, only on Saturday, the United Kingdom had more than 50,000 cases; they’ve almost reached the peak they had in the winter. How would you describe the British Prime Minister’s strategy? Is it bold, stubborn, irresponsible?
THE MINISTER – No, it isn’t for me describe that; there has been a debate in the UK, so you can see that everywhere in our countries, sadly, the pandemic is still there and vaccination is the weapon. The British...
Q. – The British are further ahead with vaccinating than we are.
THE MINISTER – They’re a little further ahead than we are, even though things are going at a more sustained pace here, but they’re a little further ahead, and as you know, things have already been delayed opening up again in the UK...
Q. – By a month, yes.
THE MINISTER – By a month, which clearly shows that even in a country which has vaccinated people, which has indeed vaccinated people even a little better than here, there’s been this caution, so today there’s the lifting of restrictions, which we’ve already had here, mostly, but it also shows that we’ve got to strike this balance...
Q. – But is what Boris Johnson is doing irresponsible?
THE MINISTER – No, I don’t think it’s irresponsible; there are things we aren’t doing here, such as the generalized lifting of the requirement to wear a mask, but that was debated in the UK as well. As we’ve seen, Prime Minister Johnson himself was a contact case again, so the pandemic isn’t over. Everyone is finding their own balance and pace. What I see, looking at Europe, is that countries which opened up again sometimes too quickly, perhaps recklessly – nightclubs without restrictions, as we saw in Spain...
Q. – You mean the Netherlands for example, Spain?
THE MINISTER – The Netherlands, perhaps – this isn’t about pointing the finger, it’s about learning lessons to ensure it doesn’t happen too quickly and with no precautions, here or elsewhere.
Q. – Just one point on the United Kingdom: a French person or a European going to the UK must spend 10 days in quarantine; that’s not the case for a Briton coming to France. Might you impose this kind of quarantine measure?
THE MINISTER – We’re thinking about it, but as you know we have health criteria; it seems to us that the measure the UK is taking isn’t completely well-founded scientifically. We consider it excessive, because it’s based on the spread – without going into too much detail – of the South African Beta variant, which in reality is now quite well controlled. It’s the other variant, Delta, that we’re more worried about. And what we’re doing for the UK and every other country is that we have scientific and health criteria. At the weekend we stepped up measures vis-à-vis the UK: it’s not a quarantine, if you’ve been vaccinated and you come, return from the UK, no problem; if you haven’t been vaccinated, you must have a compelling reason for returning to France and must self-isolate.
Q. – So since this weekend, for a number of European countries – the UK, Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and the Netherlands, I think – you need a test under 24 hours old. Do you know how many checks on this have been done in the past 24 hours? Has it been stepped up?
THE MINISTER – No, I don’t have the number of checks, but it’s been stepped up…
Q. – Because there have been eye-witness accounts, for example at Orly airport, where yesterday we saw that travellers returning from Spain were not really subjected to tighter checks and it was very haphazard. And basically, their tests were never verified.
THE MINISTER – Yes, I saw – I experienced it myself, but we’ve said very clearly to the airlines, the airports, that you’ve got to take things extremely seriously. (…)./.