France’s Indian Ocean territory, La Réunion, will be partially closed over the weekend due to a rise in Covid-19 infections, as Britain acknowledged that the situation on the island was behind strict restrictions on travel from France.
There is growing concern among officials in Paris about infection rates in the French Overseas Territories in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific, where vaccination rates are much lower than the national average.
Reunion Island will go into partial lockdown from Saturday for the next two weeks, with movements of just 10 kilometers from people’s homes during the day and 5 kilometers on Sunday, said top official, Prefect Jacques Billant.
In the evenings, there is a strict curfew from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., with no movement at all for essential reasons, he added.
Cafes, restaurants and gyms will also close for the next two weeks.
He described the situation as “worrying”, saying there was “unprecedented exponential growth of the epidemic” with 350 out of every 100,000 residents infected.
The situation on the island of Réunion is being watched especially closely after Britain said it was the main reason travelers from France – unlike all other non-redlisted destinations – were still required to spend 10 days in quarantine upon arrival in the country.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC this was due to the prevalence of the beta variant at La Reunion, which is outside Madagascar and more than 9,000 kilometers (nearly 6,000 miles) from Paris.
“It’s not the distance that matters, it’s the ease of traveling between different parts of an individual country,” he explained.
However, a spokesman for Brittany Ferries, which operates ferries across the Channel, said this logic is “as France is hammering British holidaymakers over a Covid outbreak in the (British Atlantic territory of the) Falkland Islands.”
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune previously criticized the British restrictions as “discriminatory against the French” and “not logical in terms of health policy”.
Beaune said the Beta tribe was responsible for less than five per cent of Covid cases in France, mostly occurring in overseas territories from which relatively few people traveled to the UK.
But Prime Minister Jean Castex previously expressed concern at the “dramatic” situation in some overseas territories, with only 3 in 10 adults vaccinated in La Réunion, compared to more than half across the country.
The Caribbean territory of Martinique, where only 15 percent of people have been vaccinated, will also be closed for three weeks from Friday with limited movements during the day and a curfew from 7 p.m., Prefect Stanislas Cazelles announced.