It must be said at the outset that Anglo-French relations have historically been marked by testiness, not surprising considering the wars the nations have fought in the past and even the uneasy alliances they have been part of in a more recent future. Culturally, the English and the French sometimes treat each other with disdain, one deriding the other as a nation of philistines and being, in turn, labelled a nation of dilettantes.
It was therefore not surprising that tensions should erupt again, as France reacted with indignation to a recent British decision to include travellers returning from France and Malta, both popular destinations, within the ambit of those required to quarantine themselves. This will of course put the brakes on travel across the English Channel and has provoked France’s transport minister to announce that his government will retaliate.
The minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbar warned, “France regrets the UK’s decision and will apply reciprocal measures in the transport field.” London’s decision has also drawn the ire of the World Tourism and Travel Council which has said it is “deeply disappointed that thousands of British holidaymakers have had their holidays ruined, now that the UK government has added more countries to its quarantine list, including popular summer destinations, France and Malta.”
The Council has been quite scathing in noting that UK “clearly lags behind other countries which have shunned quarantines in favour of comprehensive programmes of testing” for those arriving in or leaving countries. The new rules for travellers, ironically, come even as the UK has announced easing of several domestic restrictions.
As of Saturday, the country allowed beauty parlours and other close-contact services, soft play areas, casinos and indoor performance venues to reopen, even as experts warned that this was not being done for scientific reasons, but possibly for political or economic ones. The announcement by the government statistics office of a drop in infections from 1 in 1,500 to 1 in 1,900 was not sufficient reason to ease restrictions, the experts warned, saying there was considerable uncertainty about the estimates.
But the government has sought to justify this measure by saying it would be balanced by the new rules for travellers, logic that some have found stupefying. The UK has also put in place a regime of enhanced fines to ensure compliance with public health rules. Fines for repeatedly refusing to wear a mask could go up to 3,200 pounds, up from 100 pounds for a single offence that could be reduced to half if paid within 14 days.
The latest measures would appear to justify the criticism that Mr Boris Johnson’s government has reacted in fits and starts to the epidemic. In the British Prime Minister’s defence, it must be said he is not the only one.