Talks to rescue Eurostar are taking place between the UK and France after Covid-19 travel restrictions led to a collapse in passenger carryings.

French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said he is in discussions with his UK counterpart Grant Shapps about a bailout.

France – the majority owner of Eurostar – has already pumped €200 milliion into high speed Channel Tunnel passenger rail service.

Efforts to support the business came as it was revealed that passenger numbers fell by 78% to 2.5 million in 2020, with the vast majority travelling in the first ten weeks of the year before the spread of the virus.

Just 69,000 passengers were recorded in the April to June period against 2.9 million in the second quarter of 2019, The Times reported. Numbers fell by 94% to 170,000 in the fourth quarter.

Djebbari said: “We are working with the UK on mechanisms for aid that are proportionally pro rata to the implications of each in Eurostar.

“The government will back Eurostar to maintain this strategic link between our two countries.”

The UK’s stake in Eurostar was sold to the French in 2015 for £750 million.

Its shareholders include French state railway SNFC, its Belgian counterpart SNCB and two infrastructure funds.