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Media captionTransport Secretary Grant Shapps explains decision behind France quarantine rules

Thousands of holidaymakers are racing to return to the UK, with quarantine restrictions imposed on France coming into force from Saturday.

The 14-day isolation requirement from 04:00 BST also applies to people arriving from the Netherlands, Monaco, Malta, Turks and Caicos, and Aruba.

Eurotunnel trains are booked up, while air travellers face steep prices and extra ferry services have been added.

France warned it would take “reciprocal measures”.

The countries were targeted for quarantine restrictions because their infections rates exceeded 20 per cases 100,000 people over seven days, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

“We’ve worked so hard in this country to get our level of infections down, the last thing we want do is to have people returning and bringing the infection with them. It’s to protect everybody,” Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast.

He said there are about 160,000 British holidaymakers currently in France.

The deadline means many of them face a frantic rush to book new travel arrangements, pack and make it back to the UK in time.

Tom Duffell said he found “huge queues” at the airport as he returned home from Nice with his family.

“We were enjoying a nice cocktail last night and suddenly a news flash pops in and a scramble to book flights,” he said.

“We’ve had to spend about £800 because we can’t afford to take another two weeks off work.”

Stephanie Thiagharajah, who is French but lives in Kent, criticised the “manic” way the quarantine had been imposed after she spent a “really stressful evening” booking a train from Paris to London.

“The Eurostar was full of families, scared to be quarantined, they were definitely annoyed,” she said.

Eurotunnel said its Channel Tunnel trains were fully booked until Saturday. Earlier, customers had faced long queues to access the website.

John Keefe, director of public affairs at Getlink, which operates the Channel Tunnel, warned people not to travel to the terminal without a confirmed booking. “There is no space available,” he said.

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Eurostar passengers arriving at St Pancras, having beaten the quarantine deadline

Prices of some flights to the UK from Paris were more than £450, compared to £66 on Saturday. Many direct flights from the south of France are sold out.

The cheapest Eurostar tickets were £210, compared with £165 on Saturday.

But DFDS Ferries said it had added an extra four departures from Calais to help Britons return in time. It said bookings must be made before arriving at port.

Some holidaymakers said they would accept the quarantine restrictions on their return instead.

Jonathan Fieldsend from Woodbridge in Suffolk, who is not due to return from France with his family until 18 August, said: “We came fully accepting the risk we were taking of quarantine being introduced. We are not going to be rushing back.”

Clement Beaune, France’s secretary of state for European affairs, tweeted that the UK’s decision was a matter of “regret” for the French, but that he was hoping for a “return to normal as soon as possible”.

The travel industry, already damaged by the pandemic, also criticised the move.

“The UK clearly lags behind other countries, which have shunned quarantines in favour of comprehensive programmes of testing for everyone departing and arriving back into their respective countries,” said Gloria Guevara, president of the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The UK’s ambassador to France, Lord Llewellyn, acknowledged that the new quarantine rule would be “unwelcome news” for Britons in the country, but stressed that people could continue with their holidays as long as they follow safety precautions and self-isolate on their return.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said while the Labour Party supports “evidence based measures” at the border, it was “vital” that No 10 had a “joined-up strategy” and “urgently” puts in place a specific deal to support the heavily impacted travel sector.

The MP added: “That the government has still not put in place an effective track, trace and isolate system has made matters far worse and made it more likely that we are reliant on the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine.”

He called on Downing Street to publish science behind its decisions, “and details of any work being done to reduce the time needed to isolate through increased testing and other measures”.

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Media captionCoronavirus: How to fly during a global pandemic

According to the data company Statista, people from the UK paid 10.35 million visits to France last year, putting it second behind Spain – with 18.12 million – in terms of popularity.

The Foreign Office is now warning against “all but essential travel” to France – the quarantine measure was imposed for Spain on 25 July.

A list of more than 50 so-called travel corridors – allowing movement between the UK and the other countries with the need to self-isolate on return – was published at the start of last month and later expanded.

But the ending of some of the exemptions on the list follows a “significant change” in the risk of contracting Covid-19, the Department for Transport said.

It added that there had been a 66% increase in newly reported cases per 100,000 people in France since last Friday.

For the Netherlands, it was up 52%. And the increase for Malta was 105%, while it was 273% for Turks and Caicos and 1,106% for Aruba.

‘Can’t be complacent’

Ahead of a government meeting on the new measures, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to be “absolutely ruthless” in deciding on rules for holidaymakers from abroad.

“We can’t be remotely complacent about our own situation. Everybody understands that in a pandemic you don’t allow our population to be re-infected or the disease to come back in,” he added.

On Thursday, France reported 2,524 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, the highest daily increase since its lockdown was lifted in May.

The country’s Prime Minister, Jean Castex, said on Tuesday that coronavirus numbers had been going “the wrong way” for a fortnight.

Meanwhile, the government has announced that maximum fines for people in England who repeatedly refuse to wear a face covering could double to £3,200, while organisers of illegal raves could face a £10,000 penalty.

But from Sunday, indoor theatre, music and performance venues will be able to reopen with socially distanced audiences.

Casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and soft play centres will also be allowed to resume, as will “close-contact” beauty services such as facials, eyebrow threading and eyelash treatments.

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