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Living with Covid in France, July 13, 2021

Last year, a bit later in the summer, France faced a Covid situation somewhat similar to what it faces today. The country had emerged from a lengthy Covid-induced lockdown, and national daily infections had been brought down from a peak of about 50,000 to below a thousand. People were enjoying a sense of liberation as pandemic constraints were eased. Then a virulent variant began to circulate in the UK, and the threat of another wave that would eventually spread to the European continent raised its ugly head, which came to pass by autumn.

This year the national daily Covid infections have been brought down from averages of 30,000 per day to well under 5,000, and now the Delta variant has begun to spread, once again starting in the UK. Being 60% more contagious, the threat of another wave throughout Europe once again looms. That 40% of the adult population of France is now fully vaccinated against the virus offers some hope that it might be averted. It is already clear that, although those who have been fully vaccinated are still at risk of contracting the virus, they are likely to overcome the infection relatively unscathed. Recent Covid-related deaths are primarily occurring to people who are not vaccinated at all.

If the pace of vaccination could be accelerated to get to well over 70% of the population vaccinated, it is thought by experts, a new wave can be averted. However, the pace of vaccination has actually slackened recently, so how can it be accelerated? French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech Monday night provided the answer: by making the possession of a Covid health pass mandatory for those who wish to enter a wide variety of situations: restaurants, cafés, shopping centers, hospitals, long-distance trains, cinemas, theatres, museums, theme parks, sporting events, and cultural centers. This will be a legal requirement for everyone as of July 21, 2021.

Experts would have preferred simply making vaccination mandatory for everyone over the age of 12 in France, but that is perceived to be a politically risky measure, because most of the persons who are against vaccination are either poor, or poorly educated, or both; and a measure requiring everyone to be vaccinated has the potential of being seen as an elitist measure forced upon the unwilling unfortunates of France. Macron is, after all, a candidate for re-election in next year’s French presidential election. Expanding the use of the Covid health pass was seen as a more politically astute approach, and the initial reaction shows that this is true. 

France’s vaccination program is organized through a website used by many to book their medical appointments, Doctolib, which reported millions of Covid vaccination appointments made within hours of Macron’s speech announcing the new measures. Demand was so great that their website at one point crashed! 

We advise traveler’s to France from outside of Europe to consult the European Commission’s website, https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/coronavirus-response/safe-covid-19-vaccines-europeans/eu-digital-covid-certificate_en, to learn how to download certification of their vaccinations in a digital format that will be accepted by officials in France. Guidance can also be obtained from any French consulate near you. It is a relatively simple procedure.

Another point pronounced by Macron in his speech last night is that Covid vaccination is being made mandatory for all workers in French healthcare and in retirement homes, with penalties for those who fail to comply to be imposed as of September.  

Those of you who have booked tours in France later this year may be worried that a new lock-down in France might be declared that imposes quarantines or otherwise makes travel and touring in France less attractive than it usually is. If we express our opinion that this is not likely to happen, you might suspect us of whistling to keep our courage up. Actually, our optimism is due the 40% of the French population that is already vaccinated, combined with the prospect of that number increasing substantially. These are new factors.

France suffered dramatically in 2020 and 2021 from its loss of revenue from tourism, but most of the French tourism industry survived with generous support from the French state, which benefitted the entire range of businesses in the French economy. It came at terrific cost, and it is not likely, in our opinion, that French leaders will countenance a repeat performance, even if it appears desirable. The country can ill-afford a repeat, and for that reason we think that every effort will instead now be made to keep the country open for business.

A situation in which that logic might be abandoned is if the French health care system threatens anew to be overwhelmed with Covid patients. The good news, so far, is that, although the number of national daily Covid infections has recently risen from lows of about 2,000 to reach about 4,000, Covid hospitalizations, ICU bed occupations and deaths have not increased. Hopefully, that is due to the numbers vaccinated. We are cautiously hopeful. Of course, we also have our fingers crossed.

S.A.

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