The news that France is to drop the requirement for fully-vaccinated travellers to show evidence of a negative test on arrival is an excellent breakthrough for huge numbers of travellers. Combined with the ending of Day 2 tests for travellers coming back to the UK from this Friday, it means that most of us will, once again, be able to visit one of our favourite travel destinations without any of the niggling worries that an unexpected last-minute test result might scupper our plans.
The actual implementation date has yet to be confirmed and will almost certainly be too late for those heading on a half-term holiday this weekend. But assuming the policy will be effective in the next two or three weeks, it comes at a vital time in the travelling calendar.
It will be a boost to the last few weeks of the ski season – including the school Easter holidays. And of course early spring is one of the best times to visit Paris, our favourite city break destination. Meanwhile, in Provence, the weather is already warming up. The forecast for Nice for the next three days is wall to wall sunshine and temperatures of 16C. The almond trees are already starting to blossom and spring will soon be making its way north. By May the whole of the French countryside will be in bloom.
Whether you are looking to make the most of this on a tour of the D roads, to soak up some southern sunshine, plan a gourmet or a cultural break or simply needed some more reassurance before booking your summer holiday, this is excellent news for most travellers.
But not all. A few issues still hang over travel to France.
First is the question of vaccinations for children aged 12-17. In France this age group is required to be double-jabbed in order to qualify for a Covid pass (accessed via the TousAntiCovid app), which is essential to enter all public spaces including cafés and restaurants. It is also needed to access ski lifts. Since only 20 percent of 12-15s in the UK are double-jabbed, and just under half of 16-17s, that means many families are effectively barred from taking a French holiday under current rules. While 12-15 year olds do still have the option to test daily (at a cost) or provide proof of recovery to activate their Covid pass it’s an unwelcome additional cost for most families – what’s more over-16s don’t have this luxury and must be double jabbed.
The booster deadline
Another potential problem faces many of those who have not yet opted to take up their booster jab. If it is more than nine months since the second dose of your initial course of vaccinations, you are considered to be unvaccinated at the French border. Confusingly the rules for activating a Covid pass in France (required to access all essential services) are even tighter – from February 15 second doses will expire after four months for all over-18s, if you have not had a booster after this time you will not be able to activate a pass vaccinal. That could also affect significant numbers of people. Take the 50-59 age group. Nearly 90 per cent have had two courses of jabs, but fewer than 75 per cent have had a booster, even though it is now probably seven months or more since they had their second jab. If they don’t have their booster in the next two months, they will no longer count as vaccinated when it comes to visiting France (and several other countries). Italy, incidentally, requires a booster within six months (180 days).
And for unvaccinated adults, France remains an impractical destination for a holiday. The policy is extremely strict. You must present a negative test on arrival, then isolate for seven days and take a PCR test at the end of the isolation period. Even if you were prepared to fulfil these testing and isolation requirements you would still be unable, for example, to travel on long-distance trains, visit museums or eat in a restaurant because you would be unable to obtain a Covid pass.
Of course, there is still a long way to go to peak season. The rules may even be relaxed again by Easter, which is ten weeks away yet. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.