We’ve had plenty of second (and third) thoughts about traveling in France during this second summer of the pandemic, but in the end, the weight of scientific data about the effectiveness of our vaccines and the restrictions that continue in place overcame those worries.
So here I am (Karen will join me later) bouncing around the "D" roads in the deep heart of France again, and it makes me very happy. But it’s obvious that things are NOT what they used to be, and there are still some aspects of traveling here that make this the strangest trip ever in this country. Some of my first observations:
- Arriving in Paris is completely weird. We landed at Paris CDG – and the place is an absolute ghost town. Even inside the arrivals hall (before going through passport control) it’s obvious that there are many fewer incoming passengers than usual. (Half the terminals of this vast complex remain closed even now.) Things get stranger when you exit the baggage claim area; where in the past hundreds of people crowded around the exit, now it’s…quiet. Only passengers with tickets are allowed into the building, so walking through the empty halls with no one else around was a little unsettling.
(One side note: although anyone coming from a “green” country like the U.S. is supposed to have proof either of a COVID vaccination or a negative test for the disease, no one at CDG asked to see mine.)
- COVID-19 is still a serious problem in France, and there is still a great deal of anxiety among the people I’ve encountered. According to the government’s dashboard, there are now an average of 20,607 new cases reported every day – up 40% over the last 7 days. (112,000 people have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic here.) That’s offset some by a rapidly rising rate of vaccinations in the country, driven largely by the new law passed last weekend meaning…
- A “Passe Sanitaire” is required for most routine activities. About 62% of the population has received one dose of the vaccine regime, while (as of today) about 52% of people are fully vaccinated. There’s an app for your mobile phone called TousAntiCovid, and with proof of vaccination (OR proof of a negative test within the last 48 hours) you can get a QR code within the app.
As of today (1 August) it’s required to show the code or a paper certificate to get into restaurants, shopping malls, planes, trains, or any event (cinemas, concerts, etc.) where more than 50 people are assembled. You’re not REQUIRED to get the vaccination – you just can’t do anything very interesting without it, and that appears to be a powerful motivator for French people who are more than ready to get out of the house and on the road for August vacations!
We got our “passes sanitaires” by making an appointment with a French doctor on the Doctlib website; we uploaded copies of our American CDC cards and she entered the information into the system which generates the necessary QR code. (In theory any willing French doctor or pharmacist can do this for you, but in practice many Americans and English travelers report online that plenty of these practitioners don’t know how to capture data for someone who’s not in the French social-security system.)
The first two places I stopped – the site at Guédelon where they’re constructing a new “medieval” castle from scratch and the restaurant I re-visited my first night in Moulins) – both asked to see my pass before letting me in.
- But if you’re wondering: there is significant resistance in France, as there is in the U.S. and England, to the idea of these “vaccine passports.” In fact, the resistance here may even be stronger and better organized that it is in other countries. Last weekend, 150,000 protesters turned out to argue their case against “forced” vaccination; yesterday, it was more than 200,000! The arguments appear to be largely the same: the vaccine isn’t sufficiently tested, the government doesn’t have the right to tell me what to do, etc., etc. It’s hard to see where this might lead, though, in the face of the new law passed by Parliament and the continued rise in cases attributed to the Delta variant of COVID-19.
With all that, though, it’s still a wonderful time to be here. It seems that the restrictions on international travel have generally cut the number of foreign tourists this summer; in every place I’ve been so far, I’ve heard only French voices and not even the occasional American or English accent. This summer really does seem to be a time for “staycations”, or “French people discovering France”. It’s chillier than usual and occasionally wet this year, but the sun still breaks out over the Massif Central and most of the places that inspired this blog are still open for tourists, albeit with masks and QR codes required to get in. And for today, at least, that sun in the deep heart of France is what I’ve been needing to see this year!