Touring France with Covid Vax Certificates, Nov 12, 2021

Many potential visitors to France were blocked when Covid raised its nasty head and drove much of the world into lock-down, and into an understandable panic over what we know and don’t know about the pandemic. France went through 4 waves of it and 3 distinct distinct lock-down phases, as did many other countries in Europe. From March of 2020 to the end of June 2021, if you were a resident of North America, France did not welcome you for the purposes of tourism.

Since the start of July, France’s borders have been open to those tourists who are fully vaccinated against Covid. Although many persons from the US decided to take advantage of that re-opening, a larger number did not. Quite a few were particularly concerned about the possibility that their US state-issued printed vaccination certificates might not be accepted once they were in France, a concern that has since been proven almost entirely unfounded.

Many others simply were reluctant to travel in a world in which Covid remains a virulent and unpredictable factor. Since the end of June, we have been fortunate to receive 33 clients who we took on 29 different days of tours in Normandy, Champagne, Provence, the Loire Valley, Paris Giverny, Chantilly and Versailles. Most of our clients were allowed entry into France on the strength of their US state-issued and printed certificates that certified that they had received full vaccination of CDC-approved vaccines against Covid. A handful of them were able, before leaving the US for France, to convert their printed US state-issued certificates into the digital format that is required and accepted almost exclusively in France for proving that its own citizens and residents have been vaccinated and therefore are not considered to be a risk.

The French government has tried to make the digital version of proof of anti-Covid vaccination available to everyone who asks for it; and that has yielded the desired results in the majority of cases. But not always. Sometimes those who applied received a terse message explaining that the office charged with providing the digital version of the certificate was over-whelmed, doing the best it could to deliver the requested certificates, but struggling to keep up with demand.

Did that result in some of our clients being refused entry when asked to present proof of their vaccination? No, not one of our clients experienced that, whereas we estimate that each one must have been asked to provide proof of their complete vaccination an average of about ten times per day for between 7 to 14 days. That is an impressive record, if you are measuring how well French authorities have been able to implement their own rules in a reasonable way.

We mention this for the benefit of those of you who have not yet received your digital version of the certificate. You should be just fine here in France using only your printed US state-issued certificates. We would not worry about not having the digital version. Get it if you can, but don’t fret if you cannot.

A colleague who specializes in tours in Provence did tell me that one of her clients from the US was recently refused entry to a restaurant in a remote corner of Provence because her vaccination certificate was not digital. It is the only ‘real-life’ refusal of which we have heard, among many other colleagues, and I suspect that the persons concerned had other issues, given the other-wise universal acceptance of the US state-printed cards.

One of the fortunate or, depending on your point of view, unfortunate results of the pandemic was the disappearance of crowds of visitors at popular destinations, such as the Château de Versailles, the Louvre and thousands of other museums and monuments in Paris and throughout France, as well in the country’s dining and drinking establishments. Suddenly, everyone enjoyed easier access to those establishments.

No longer. Everywhere you look these days, hordes of visitors in France are over-flowing, and the usual babel of different languages being spoken simultaneously can be heard everywhere. You also notice increased demand when trying to buy entry tickets on-line for popular destinations, where tickets are sold-out for several consecutive days beyond near-by dates. That is true of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and many TGV trains.

Meanwhile, France has attained a vaccination level of 87.2% of its population above the age of 12. We are also seeing the rate of infection by Covid beginning to rise again, which may be the start of a fifth wave. After dropping into a few hundred per day, the rate has recently risen to over ten thousand per day. Yesterday it reached over twelve thousand people and the R number leaped to 1.16 nationally.

One piece of good news is that the number of people who become seriously ill remains low, reflecting the apparent protection that being vaccinated provides. Yesterday the French government announced that it will now require all of the population of France over the age of 65 to have booster anti Covid shots to maintain the validity of their vaccination certificates. My wife and I had our own two weeks ago and neither of us had much of a reaction to it. So far, so good. We have been comfortable with the stringent anti-Covid practices of the French government, as they appear to us to have done a lot in bringing the pandemic under control, to the point that life here has returned to a close resemblance of normality.