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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France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.