With France’s ‘health pass’ measure set to expand, bugs and questions remain

·5-min read

Tourists are once again flooding into France – albeit not at pre-pandemic levels – as use of the so-called Covid-19 “health pass” is set to expand. So far, the implementation of the measure has not been without glitches. How will visitors and business owners adapt?

It’s Monday afternoon at the Louvre and the line of visitors at the first checkpoint is growing longer, though still manageable. In addition to verifying ticket times, the two security personnel are now charged with assuring that would-be entrants to the museum have their Covid-19 health passes in order – a requirement at museums in France since July 21. A handful of lanyard-adorned staff members hover nearby to deal with any problems that arise.

In principle, Europeans and Britons can upload their information into the French government’s mobile phone app, #TousAntiCovid. In practice, though, that doesn’t always work. On this afternoon, for every QR code the guards at the Louvre scan, there is one that is rejected and they have to check manually. Sometimes that’s tricky.

“What was the date of your second dose?” a Louvre employee asks a European tourist after a scan fails. A colleague quickly steps in so the original guard can attend to those waiting in line. The second guard confirms that the visitor received her second shot more than two weeks earlier – the requirement – and lets her through.

Not only does the QR code not work at times, but many tourists don’t have a digital pass at all. Those vaccinated in the United States, for example, only have a handwritten card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to show as proof, so each of those must be visually verified. Those who are not vaccinated need to show a negative Covid test no more than 48 hours old. The timing of that, too, must be calculated by the guards.

On this day, though, the tourists inside the museum didn't seem to mind. “It’s been smooth, no issue whatsoever,” said Shane Morris, who was visiting from Portland, Oregon with his daughter Barrett. “We just show the CDC card.”

In his experience, the verification process has been uneven. At the Louvre, “they didn’t even look at it,” he said, while at the Arc de Triomphe they paid a bit more attention.

“At the Eiffel Tower they asked for ID,” Barrett added.

Andrew, Matthew and Julia Laquerre, siblings visiting from Boston, Massachusetts said they found the process “quite simple”, both at the Louvre and at the Eiffel Tower. They hadn’t noticed anyone calculating their vaccination dates, but said they’d all gotten their second jabs in April, so a quick glance at their cards would easily indicate that plenty of time had passed.

They noted that at the Eiffel Tower there was a tent where the unvaccinated could get a rapid test so they would still be allowed to visit the site.

Tech troubles for some

Europeans, on the other hand, have at least a chance of getting through checks with a digital pass. The Dutch, for example, have a mobile phone app, CoronaCheck, that gives them a QR code and allows them to toggle between a pass for domestic use and one for international use. The international version had worked perfectly for two groups of tourists from the Netherlands at the Louvre.

The digital option has proven less effective for those who were vaccinated in the UK. Julia Dräger is German but lives in London and was vaccinated there. She entered her inoculation details into the #TousAntiCovid app and got a QR code. She tried to use it to join her companion on an attraction at the Tuileries Garden fun fair, but it failed (saving her from a ride she hadn’t really wanted to go on anyway). She gave it another go at the Museum of Jewish Art and History in the Marais, and it didn’t work there, either, but the guard let her through after confirming her vaccination dates.

Dräger is not alone. Several reviewers of the #TousAntiCovid app on Google Play who had been vaccinated in the UK said that their attempts to get a working QR code had been similarly unsuccessful.

While the Louvre had ample staff to respond to the new requirements, restaurant owners, who will likely have to begin checking health passes next Monday, are anxious about how the process will work for them. “The situation is quite vague,” said Nicolas Alary, co-owner of the Holybelly restaurants. “We know it’s coming. We don’t really know how it’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen or how they’re going to enforce it.” The one thing he is clear on is that the sanctions for not enforcing the pass will be “very, very harsh”.

While August 9 is the announced start date for the requirement that restaurants check health passes, the law has not yet been confirmed by the Constitutional Council, which is set to take up the measure on August 5.

In the meantime, restaurateurs have little information. Alary said he is on a few WhatsApp group chats with other restaurant owners, and they are all at a loss.

Alary’s main concern is that the health pass will deter people from going out and deliver yet another blow to his business. “It’s been stop and go for two years, and now we’re doing quite well,” he said. “I’m really, really worried all that momentum we gained will slow down.”

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