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Resuming Tours in France, August 1, 2021

Being a company that provides private tours in France to English-speaking visitors, it happened that, until this last week, the last tour that we had performed was in early March, 2020. That was a Classic Paris Luxury Tour of Champagne, and we would never have imagined then that we would not be performing another tour during the following 16 months. At that time, Covid was a new and virtually unknown phenomenon.

As it and news of the pandemic then spread throughout the world, each of scores of tours that we had booked for the spring and summer of last year was cancelled. That was followed with a series of lock-downs in France that also made the bookings we had registered for the fall and winter of last year impossible to perform. That state of affairs extended into the spring and summer of this year, 2021, when the last lock-down in France was lifted at the end of June.

It was therefore quite an occasion for us leap back to life last week with a family of five persons from Texas, who had originally booked a five-day tour in Normandy and Brittany in July, 2020, and who re-booked for July of this year.

You might imagine some of our concerns: France now requires proof of full vaccination against Covid both to enter the country and to be allowed into a wide range of cultural sites (museums, monuments, theaters, etc.) and sporting events, as well as dining and drinking establishments, which means all cafés, bars, bistros, brasseries and restaurants. 

Anxious communications shot back and forth with our client: what will be required of them? Will they be able to visit the sites they want to see? What if their documents don’t correspond with what is required? What is a QR code? What if their vaccination certificates do not have a scannable QR code? How does one procure in the US what might be required in France?

It did not help that US media was full of misinformation about what French authorities would require and what they will accept from travelers from the US who wish to enter France, and what they need to present to be allowed to enter various venues while in France. 

Early in the pandemic France made astute use of available technology and created a website called “Tous Anticovid,” which means “All against Covid.” Everyone living in France was invited to sign up for it, and It began as a means of informing people whenever they might have been exposed to a carrier of the virus, and, if that came to pass, a means of informing them that they needed to be tested for infection and that they further needed to isolate if the test results were positive. 

Before long, the site started reporting statistics relating to the spread of the infection, including its different variants, the number of persons infected in different parts of the country, and the number of persons hospitalized with it, as well as those in ICU units.

It gradually evolved into a platform of many different forms of Covid-related information, and it also became a repository of certificates demonstrating when each adherent had been tested for the virus, whether their results were positive or negative, and finally when and where and with which vaccine each person had been vaccinated. If you became infected, it recorded when that was detected and it also reported the date when you were no longer infected. Test results and vaccinations were reported in the form of scannable QR codes, making it easy for any person who needed to verify the contents to do so with a scanner.  

This technology was widely adopted by other European countries, but unfortunately it was not adopted in the US, giving rise to the dilemma of how to reconcile the different technologies used in the two countries. As you might guess, the solution agreed is a compromise between different procedures and technologies. In the end, France is anxious to restore its status as number one tourist destination in the world, for which visitors from the US are a very large component. France therefore decided to accommodate what is available in the US.

That means that for visitors from the US, both to enter France and to enter popular venues (museums, restaurants), they need to produce certificates issued by the state in which they live that certify that the bearer has been fully vaccinated by CDC-approved vaccines, even though those certificates may not display QR codes that are scannable.

Such was the case of our family from Texas, who had small paper cards issued by Texas state authorities which confirmed that the person to whom the card had been issued had indeed been fully vaccinated with vaccines against Covid that had been approved by the CDC. Their certificates did not have a QR code, but they were accepted everywhere, from the border police at CDG airport, to restaurants in Paris, to the Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny, to the Airborne Museum in Sainte Mere Eglise, to the abbey in Mont Saint Michel.

Between now and the end of this year we have a succession of clients arriving from the US for tours all over France and we will report here any issues that might arise that may be of interest to persons contemplating touring in France, especially those from the US and Canada.

Meanwhile, the Delta variant has been wreaking havoc everywhere, including in France, particularly among those who have not been vaccinated, and, sometimes, even among those who have been vaccinated. Those infected who have been vaccinated are reported to come down with mild infections from which they recover relatively rapidly. The daily numbers of new infections that had dropped to below one thousand per day in the month of June shot up to nearly 30,000 by the end of July, mostly due to the Delta variant. 

To reduce the number of unvaccinated persons in France, the French government has made the decision to make proof of full vaccination a condition of entry to most of the places that ordinary French citizens like to frequent: every sort of dining and drinking establishment, as well as places of cultural and athletic interest.

That decision resulted in the number of persons in France who have been fully vaccinated jumping from a bit over 40% at the end of June to over 60% currently. It is expected that it will reach over 80% by the end of August and hopefully over 90% before the end of September. Of course, there are people in France who object to this policy and consider it an infringement of their liberties; but it appears that a majority of the French population supports this approach and the government is adamant that this policy will continue to be implemented.

Whether that proves sufficient to deliver France from new Covid torment remains to be seen, but there are reasons to be hopeful. As long as vaccines attenuate the effects of the virus, it is highly unlikely that France will lock down again. That is because it can hardly afford a new lock-down purely from a financial perspective. During its lock-downs the French state stepped up to the plate and paid the salaries of the entire country and shouldered the bill. In so doing, the entire country came through the pandemic relatively unscathed. However, it could hardly afford what it did, and the idea of a repeat performance is truly unthinkable. That explains in good part the determination of the French government and President Macron to vaccinate as close to 100% of the population as possible, hoping that this will stop the pandemic.

There is also speculation that a third booster vaccination may be made available and required before the end of this year, although it is too soon to know if that will happen. Nor is it clear if that will be either desirable or effective, as there is legitimate concern that repeated use of vaccines could produce diminishing protection. It is clear that when it comes to Covid our world is in uncharted waters.

For the time being, we will be taking clients to Champagne this coming Saturday, and we have a couple that we will be taking to Normandy soon thereafter. For now, we are back in the touring business.

S.A.

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