EXPLAINED: What does France’s ‘vaccine passport’ trial mean for travel in 2021?

France's transport minister announced on Thursday that the country was to begin trials on a digital 'vaccine passport' - so does this open the way for travel in and out of France for people who have already been vaccinated?

EXPLAINED: What does France's 'vaccine passport' trial mean for travel in 2021?
Will travel to France be opening up again? Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP

What is the trial?

The trial as announced on Thursday by transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari is limited in its scope, so people shouldn’t get too excited just yet.

It’s a month-long trial and will be run by Air France on flights between France and the overseas territories of Gaudeloupe and Martinique. 

Although these are long-haul flights they technically count as domestic travel within French territories, so this does not affect any international travel.

The rules on travel into France remain, for the moment, the same.

That is, travel from outside the EU remains almost entirely banned with only limited exemptions for essential travel – see HERE for the full list of reasons.

Travel from within the EU and Schengen zone into France is allowed for any reason, but requires a negative Covid test and extra paperwork at the border.

IN DETAIL The rules for travelling into France from within the EU

How does the pass work?

The pass being trialled is a phone app, onto which passengers will have to upload either a vaccination certificate or a recent Covid test.

At present in France there are several different ways to get a Covid test, not all of which offer digital proof, while there is also no vaccine app, so a lot of work needs to be done to ‘link’ proof of either vaccinated status or a negative Covid test to the app.

And that’s just for travel within France, adding tests or vaccine certificates from other countries will add further complications.

“The goal is to see if it works well in real-time” by reducing checks that are drastically slowing boarding and arrival procedures, Djebbari told RMC radio.

“It could offer a preview, or at least a large-scale test, of a future ‘travel pass’” that would “ensure against fraud and shorten waiting lines,” he said.

If it works, will France reopen its borders?

At present, France’s non-EU borders are closed ‘until further notice’ and there is no date for a review on border rules.

Things are unlikely to change in the short term as the health situation in France is still fragile, with 30,000 new cases recorded on Wednesday and some parts of the country being placed under weekend lockdown as hospitals struggle to cope.

Is this the same as the EU’s vaccine passport scheme?

The French trial is separate, but the app as described sounds similar to the EU’s proposed ‘green pass’ laid out by European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen earlier this month – it is digital and it has options to present either a vaccination certificate or a recent negative Covid test for those who either cannot be vaccinated or who have not been able to access a vaccine so far.

The EU Commission will examine legislation around this later in March and Von der Leyen’s statements suggest that it would be rolled out for travel within the EU and Schengen zone first, and then expanded to allow travel in and out of the Bloc.

The EU’s external borders have been closed since March 2020, with exemptions only for essential travel.

There is currently no timescale, but the EU has been talking about using the pass for travel in ‘the summer’.

And is France likely to approve this?

There has been some controversy in France over the idea of vaccine passports, with some fearing they amount to ‘coercion’ for people to be vaccinated and others saying they are unfair on those still waiting for a vaccine, but by adding an option for a Covid test instead, this app seems to bypass that problem.

Announcing it, Djebarri added that the pass was intended only for cross-border travel and does not foreshadow a broader Covid vaccination requirement for travel or other activities, such as going to restaurants or the cinema.

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Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

Experts have warned of a particularly bad flu epidemic this winter in France due to a combination of lowered immune systems and 'vaccine apathy' - urging high-risk groups to get their shot as soon as the flu vaccination campaign begins in October.

Experts warn of high levels of flu in France this winter

France’s annual flu vaccine campaign will officially get under way on October 18th this year – and medical experts have warned that this year’s season may be a bad one amid fears of “vaccine apathy”.

When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters in France this autumn

Immunologist Alain Fischer, who chaired France’s Conseil d’orientation de la stratégie vaccinale throughout the Covid-19 pandemic said that the high number of flu cases in Australia and the southern hemisphere in its winter were “a warning sign” that this winter’s flu, coupled with rising cases of Covid-19, could lead to a sharp rise in hospitalisations again in the winter.

“For two years, influenza has been kept at bay, thanks to the barrier measures we have put in place against Covid,” he told Le Parisien. 

“This year, it will be difficult to maintain the same level of protection: masks, distancing, intensive hand washing … Faced with this relaxation, there is a serious risk of flu epidemic.”

Between two million and six million people contract flu every winter in France. The infection is responsible for between 4,000 and 6,000 deaths every year, usually among people aged 65 and over. But in ‘bad’ flu years, that mortality figure can rise rapidly.

READ ALSO When, where and how to get flu shots and Covid boosters this autumn in France

The country, meanwhile, is at the start of what is being described as an “eighth wave” of Covid, and the Haute Autorité de santé recommends the eligible, vulnerable people ensure they are vaccinated against both viruses as early as possible. “A Covid-flu cohabitation is not a good thing,”  Fischer said. “It is synonymous with a very high number of hospitalisations. 

“Hence the objective of two strong vaccination campaigns – Covid and flu – especially for the most vulnerable.”

“The double injection is very good, and practical for patients. But I think that we should not wait, especially vulnerable people. It is a mistake to think that you will get your Covid booster when the flu vaccine is here – the Covid jab should not be delayed.”

Currently less than 40 percent of people eligible for a fourth Covid vaccine have received their latest dose.

Dual-strain Covid-19 vaccines designed to combat both delta and omicron variants will be available in France from October 3rd.

READ ALSO France approves new vaccines for Covid Omicron sub-variants

“It is quite possible to get your Covid injection in early October and flu vaccine in late October – you will need both anyway,” Fischer said.

The Haute Autorité de Santé recommends influenza vaccination for the following groups:

  • people aged 65 and over; 
  • people with chronic diseases; 
  • pregnant women;
  • people suffering from obesity (BMI equal to or greater than 40 kg/m 2 );
  • Infants under 6 months at risk of serious influenza;
  • Families and others close to immunocompromised people; 
  • home help workers caring for vulnerable individuals.

For anyone in these groups, the flu vaccine is 100 percent covered by health insurance and delivered free of charge to the pharmacy, on presentation of a voucher.