Wednesday, April 24

Is France safe to visit



Britons in Paris should remain vigilant and follow the advice of local security authorities.

That’s the latest advice from the Foreign Office (FCO) following a shooting in the heart of the city, on the Champs Elysees, in which a police officer was killed and two more injured.

The attack is the first in the country since a man drove a lorry through Bastille Days crowds in Nice last year, killing 86 people and injuring hundreds more. It was the third major attack in France in 18 months, with the other two, the November attacks and the Charlie Hebdo shootings, taking place in the capital, Paris.

What happened in Paris?

A suspected terrorist opened fire on a police car parked on the historic Parisian road that links the Arc de Triomphe and the Place de la Concorde. The gunman was shot dead by police as he fled. The incident comes three days before the first round of the country’s presidential election.

Police were recommending that the public stays away from the Champs Elysees, but the road has since reopened.

The Foreign Office advised Britons to remain vigilant and follow the advice of local security or their tour operator.

“If you’re in the area and it is safe to do so, contact your friends and family to tell them you are safe,” it said.

Last night mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo tweeted saying the city would remain united in the face of terror threats. It is likely there will be increased security around the country in the run-up to the vote on Sunday.

Is France safe?

France is consistently one of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations, with the Foreign Office estimating that around 17 million Britons travel across the Channel each year. It is the world’s most visited country with some 83 million people arriving there in 2013. The US, the second most visited, welcomed 70 million.

A national state of emergency put in place by President Francois Hollande after the attacks in November 2015 was due to expire last summer, but was extended to last until July 15 this year. It is not at this point clear whether it will be extended further. It gives the French authorities additional powers to arrest suspects and impose curfews.

The Foreign Office does not advise against to travel to France. However, it does advise that travellers be vigilant.

What is the general Foreign Office advice?

The FCO says there is a high threat from terrorism in the country.

It says: “Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups, and recent French military intervention against Daesh (ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be especially vigilant and has reinforced its security measures.”

It warns that attacks could be indiscriminate.

A smartphone app released by the French government called SAIP (Système d’alerte et d’information des populations) alerts users to possible security incidents across the country, including all natural disasters and terror attacks.

The French government has also issued guidance on what to do in the event of a terror attack . It focuses on three elements: escape, hide, alert.

Have there been other attacks?

The bombings in Brussels early last year were also linked to Paris’s November attacks.

What should I do in case of an attack?

Contact your loved ones, stay vigilant and follow the instructions of local authorities, says the Foreign Office.

Should we keep visiting France?

A study by the World Trade and Tourism Council (WTTC) suggested that the impact of the November attacks in Paris in 2015 would last for 13 months, hitting tourist attractions and hotel occupancy rates.

However, subsequent attacks have spread concern that France is vulnerable to terrorism. Indeed, Paris saw a fall in visitor numbers last year, while its hotels slashed rates to encourage tourists back.

Our France expert Anthony Peregrine says it is vital tourists return to the country. In the aftermath of the Nice attack, he said: “In the late 18th and 19th centuries, our noble forebears essentially invented Nice and the Côte d’Azur as winter destinations. So clearly it is incumbent upon us not to abandon them when they need us most.”

Can I cancel my trip or return early?

You can, but you will have to pay any extra costs you incur. Travel companies are not obliged to offer free cancellation or repatriation unless the FCO advises against travel – though some do for a limited period after major events, but that would not be the case now.

While some hotels may allow you to postpone your booking, you are normally liable to honour any hotel bookings unless there is a free cancellation clause.

Will my travel insurance cover any losses if I don’t travel?

Not usually. Travel insurance normally excludes costs associated with terrorist action.