As the French ‘health pass’ measure expands, bugs and questions remain

Tourists are once again pouring into France – albeit not at pre-pandemic levels – as use of the so-called Covid-19 “health pass” will increase. So far, the implementation of the measure has not been without problems. How do visitors and entrepreneurs adapt?

It’s Monday afternoon at the Louvre and the line of visitors at the first checkpoint is getting longer, but still manageable. In addition to verifying ticket times, the two security guards are now required to ensure that potential museum attendees have their Covid-19 health passes in order – a requirement in museums in France since July 21. A handful of lanyard-decorated employees float nearby to fix any problems.

In principle, Europeans and Brits can upload their information in the French government’s mobile phone app, #TousAntiCovid. In practice, however, this does not always work. On this afternoon, for every QR code that is rejected, the guards at the Louvre scan one that they have to manually check. Sometimes that is difficult.

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

Not only does the QR code sometimes not work, many tourists also do not have a digital pass at all. For example, those vaccinated in the United States only have a handwritten card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to show as evidence, so each of these must be verified visually. Those who have not been vaccinated must show a negative Covid test not older than 48 hours. The timing of that must also be calculated by the guards.

However, on this day, the tourists in the museum didn’t seem to mind. “It went smoothly, no problem at all,” said Shane Morris, who was visiting with his daughter Barrett from Portland, Oregon. “We’re just showing the CDC map.”

In his experience, the verification process was uneven. At the Louvre “they didn’t even look at it,” he said, paying closer attention at the Arc de Triomphe.

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

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

They noted that there was a tent near the Eiffel Tower where unvaccinated people could get a quick test so they could still visit the site.

Technical issues for some

Europeans, on the other hand, have at least a chance to pass checks with a digital pass. For example, the Dutch have an app for mobile phones, CoronaCheck, which gives them a QR code and with which they can switch 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 in the Louvre.

The digital option has proven less effective for those vaccinated in the UK. Julia Dräger is German but lives in London and has been vaccinated there. She entered her vaccination details into the #TousAntiCovid app and received a QR code. She tried to use it to accompany her companion on an attraction at the Tuileries Fair, but failed (saved her from a ride she hadn’t really wanted to do anyway). She tried again 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 their attempts to get a working QR code had also been unsuccessful.

While the Louvre had enough staff to meet the new requirements, restaurant owners, who are likely to start checking health passes next Monday, are concerned about how the process will work for them. “The situation is rather tenuous,” 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 about is that the penalties for failing to enforce the pass will be “very, very severe.”

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

Meanwhile, restorers have little information. Alary said he has a few WhatsApp group chats with other restaurant owners, and they’re all clueless.

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

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