Tourists and visitors will need booster to use French health pass

The French health pass - essential to access a wide of range of venues including bars, museums and for long-distance train travel - requires a vaccine booster shot to stay activated. The health ministry has confirmed to us that this rule also applies to tourists and visitors.

Strasbourg Christmas market health pass sign
The health pass is required to access a wide range if venues in France. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

France’s health pass has been in place since the summer, but now the country has begun deactivating the passes of people who are eligible for a booster but have not yet had one.

When this policy was first announced in November it referred only to people vaccinated in France.

However this has now been expanded to those who received their vaccines elsewhere and the Health Ministry has confirmed to The Local that everyone – including tourists and visitors to France – will need a booster in order to get a health pass or keep their existing pass activated.

Passes are deactivated if seven months has passed since the person received their second vaccine dose and they have not received a booster shot, although this limit will soon be cut to four months. Deactivations have already begun for people aged 65 and over, and from January 15th will be expanded to those aged between 18 and 65.

READ ALSO Calendar: When will my French health pass deactivate?

So what about those vaccinated outside France – either tourists and visitors or those who received their vaccine in a different country and then moved to France?

The same rules apply, the French health ministry has confirmed.

They told The Local: “Since December 15th 2021, all people aged 65 and over and those vaccinated with the Janssen vaccine must have received a booster dose no more than 7 months after their last injection (2 months for people vaccinated with Janssen), to benefit from a valid health pass.

“Foreigners who are eligible for the booster and have not had it will have to take a test and pay for the test, which is valid for 24 hours, in order to benefit from the health pass.”

It should be noted, however, that the government is debating replacing the health pass with a vaccine pass, which would have no testing for option for those are not considered fully vaccinated, including booster.

The ministry added that the booster requirement “concerns only the domestic health pass and not the border pass.”

“In other words, a booster is not yet required to leave or return to France.”

The majority of EU and Schengen zone countries, as well as the UK, are offering booster shots on a similar timetable to France, and proof of vaccination or a booster shot in an EU/Schengen zone country and the UK can be uploaded directly to the French Tous Anti Covid app, which contains the health pass.

If you are using the app, you will get a warning when your pass is about to deactivate.

Paper certificates of vaccination from these countries are also accepted.

However, those vaccinated outside the EU need to swap their vaccination certificate for a French QR code (known as a certificate of vaccine equivalence) before they can use the health pass – find out how HERE.

These codes will now only be given to people who have also had a booster when eligible.

The Ministry told us: “Since December 15th 2021, people aged 65 and over who completed their initial vaccination schedule more than 7 months ago must provide proof of a booster dose in order to be eligible for the generation of a certificate of vaccine equivalence. This also applies to persons 18 years and older who were vaccinated with Janssen more than 2 months ago.”

For those vaccinated in the UK there is an extra wrinkle – NHS vaccination codes are only valid for 30 days and since the deactivation programme began, the Tous Anti Covid app also deactivates expired NHS codes, meaning that those vaccinated in the UK must download a new NHS code every 30 days and add it to the French app in order to keep their pass working.

If your pass is deactivated, here’s how to reactivate it.

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Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.