The move is expected to trigger a rush of British holidaymakers to France for Channel ports and Eurostar services before the new quarantine restrictions take effect at 4 a.m. on Saturday.
Travelers arriving from the Netherlands, Monaco, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba will also need to self-isolate for 14 days, according to a decision announced by Downing Street just before 10 p.m. Thursday.
France has indicated it will retaliate by ordering a voluntary quarantine regime for Britons arriving in France, confirming that Covid-19 will have a serious impact on travel between the two countries.
The mood in Whitehall on Wednesday was that France would not be put on a ‘watch list’, but that changed on Thursday as new coronavirus data arrived from Paris.
Whitehall officials said the decision to act quickly was also driven in part by demands from devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for immediate action.
Data from France over the past week showed a 66% increase in new reported cases and a 52% increase in the weekly incidence rate per 100,000 population.
During a visit to Northern Ireland earlier Thursday, Mr Johnson said: ‘We have to be absolutely ruthless about this, even to our closest and dearest friends and partners. I think everyone understands this.
“We’ll look at the data a little later this afternoon – looking at exactly where France and other countries are doing.”
The number of daily test-confirmed infections in France was 2,669 in the past 24 hours – the fourth time in a week that it has exceeded 2,000 – setting a new record after the lockdown.
The cumulative total of cases in the country now stands at 209,365 and the seven-day moving average of new infections has risen to 1,962, a level not seen since the end of April.
“We cannot be remotely satisfied with our own situation,” Mr Johnson said. “Everyone understands that in the event of a pandemic, you do not allow our population to be re-infected or the disease to reappear.
“This is why the quarantine measures are very important and we have to apply them very strictly.”
The cumulative total of Covid cases over 14 days in France is 32.1 per 100,000; in the Netherlands this figure is 40.2 and in Malta 74.8. The UK figure by comparison is 18.5.
UK quarantine rules require anyone traveling to Britain from a ‘non-exempt’ country – those designated as having higher Covid rates – to self-isolate for 14 days.
The Foreign Office has also updated its travel advice to advise against all but essential travel to France, Monaco, the Netherlands, Malta, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Aruba.
Grant Shapps, transport secretary, said: “The French government has said that unfortunately the virus is going in the wrong direction.”
Tim Alderslade, managing director of Airlines UK, called the move a “devastating further blow to the travel industry” and urged the government to use airport testing and a more targeted “subnational approach” to avoid the introduction repeated national quarantine restrictions.