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article imageFirst Eurostar passengers depart UK for Paris as border reopens

By Sylvain Peuchmaurd (AFP)     Dec 23, 2020 in Travel

Passengers supplied with negative virus tests on Wednesday boarded the first Eurostar trains from London to France since border closures, eager to spend Christmas with their families.

Shortly before the departure of the first train to Paris from St Pancras Station at 0906 GMT, the terminal remained noticeably quieter than would normally be expected two days before Christmas.

Only a few passengers gathered around the station's ticket offices for boarding, dragging their suitcases and brandishing their all-important negative test results.

"I had already taken a ticket on Monday, finally they postponed it to today, I hope to be able to leave," Francesco, a 28-year-old student, told AFP. "Family vacations are important."

A Eurostar spokesman said that only 60 of the 900 seats available on the first train had been taken.

French authorities relaxed the travel restrictions on Tuesday evening, 48 hours after banning arrivals from the UK to curb the spread of a new coronavirus strain discovered in the country.

Eurostar said there had not been a large surge in reservations
Eurostar said there had not been a large surge in reservations
Tolga Akmen, AFP

Under the new rules set to be reviewed on December 31, French citizens as well as foreigners residing in France or in the European Union, and those making essential journeys, can now cross the border again. To do so, they must provide a negative Covid test that is less than 72 hours old.

At St Pancras, Sara Wood, a 57-year-old catering manager, was able to provide a recent negative result because she is tested every week at her workplace and said she was "very happy" to be going home to Creuse in central France.

"I normally travel back and forth every week, but I haven't been able to because of Covid. So this is the first time I'm going home in eight months," she said.

- 'Total mess' -

Other passengers waited nervously to see if results from tests they had taken in anticipation of the journey would come in time.

Sheila Finnan, who was originally supposed to return home to Paris on Tuesday, described the situation over testing as a "total mess", with no opportunity for screening at the station itself.

Passengers were required to provide a negative Covid test less than 72 hours old before they could b...
Passengers were required to provide a negative Covid test less than 72 hours old before they could board a train
Tolga Akmen, AFP

She was stopped from boarding the morning's first train out of London because she didn't have a negative test result and was going to wait for the 1900 GMT service after taking a new test earlier in the day.

"Hopefully the result will be negative, and I'll wait here for another eight hours," she said.

Staff at St Pancras were telling travellers where to go to get tested, but many were still leaving without being able to catch their trains.

- No surge in reservations -

The first vehicles with passengers disembarked in Calais from Dover overnight, after the English port reopened to outgoing traffic, an AFP correspondent saw.

The first passenger passed through the Channel Tunnel at around 0200 GMT, and the first trucks were due to cross the Pas-de-Calais on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for Getlink, which operates the Eurotunnel.

Clement Beaune, French minister for European Affairs, told BFM TV the number of trains and planes linking the UK to France could be adapted to meet a possible rise in demand.

However, Eurostar said there had not been a large surge in reservations.

"There is no reason to add more trains," a spokesman for the subsidiary of France's state-owned railway company said.

Air France restarted its usual flight schedule on Wednesday, running four return flights between Paris and London, two between Paris and Manchester and one between Paris and Edinburgh.

During the 48-hour suspension of flights from the United Kingdom, Air France kept running two return flights to London and one to Manchester but the planes carried only cargo.

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