- Fully vaccinated South Africans can now travel to France without enduring a mandatory quarantine period.
- South Africans will need to present their vaccination certificates to airlines and border control authorities, along with a sworn statement.
- But France's 'pass sanitaire' – or health pass – which is needed to gain access to events or venues could complicate things for tourists.
- South Africa's vaccine certificates are not yet compatible with the digital health pass and, in the meantime, tourists will likely need to retest for Covid-19 every three days.
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France has opened its borders to fully vaccinated visitors, allowing travellers from South Africa – still regarded as a high-risk country – to avoid quarantine. But a contentious new law restricting access to bars, restaurants, cafés, museums, and cinemas to people with a valid health pass could complicate the tourist experience.
As with much of Europe, travel from South Africa to France has been severely restricted for most of the year due to prevalence of the Covid-19 Beta variant first recognised at the end of 2020. Following in the footsteps of the United Kingdom and most European Union (EU) states, France imposed tough travel restrictions on South Africans in April.
Travel from South Africa has been limited to French residents, nationals, their spouses, and children. Even with a negative PCR test result, these travellers were subjected to a mandatory 10-day quarantine.
These travel regulations were updated in June, when France introduced a traffic light system – similar to that used by the UK – to determine restrictions in line with a specific county's Covid-19 risk profile. South Africa has been categorised as a red list country, which, until Sunday, required all travellers – regardless of their vaccination status – to self-isolate for at least seven days.
In a move to safely reopen the country's embattled tourism sector, France recently announced an outright exemption for all fully vaccinated travellers. The new regulations, which came into effect on Sunday, allow fully vaccinated travellers to enter France without having to provide a compelling reason or endure quarantine.
Travellers are considered fully vaccinated against Covid-19 28 days after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot and seven days after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. South African travellers will need to present their vaccination certificates to airlines and border control authorities, along with a sworn statement certifying the absence of Covid-19 symptoms.
And although fully vaccinated South African travellers are now allowed to enter France without facing quarantine, a health pass – or pass sanitaire – is required as proof to access social gathering points. This health pass was first implemented in June and was required to attend social gatherings which hosted more than 1,000 people, such as concerts and sporting events.
Starting on Wednesday 21 July, the health pass will be mandatory for access to all events or venues receiving more than 50 people, like theatres, cinemas, museums, concert halls, festivals, stadiums, and amusement parks. From the start of August, the health pass will be required in cafés, bars, restaurants, and shopping centres.
These new rules sparked protests on the streets of France. Almost 114,000 demonstrators gathered to rally against the mandatory health pass laws over the past week, according to France24.
The health pass, which can be digitised via France's Tous Anti Covid mobile app, verifies a person's vaccination status and results of a PCR or antigen test. Being fully vaccinated with a dose approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) allows for free movement to events and venues, while a negative test result is only valid for 72 hours.
For travellers from the EU, consolidating a vaccination status with the French pass sanitaire is simple due to the EU digital health pass which offers a recognisable and scannable QR code. Similarly, the French government has confirmed that the UK's NHS vaccination certificate will be recognised in France as a health pass.
For travellers from other countries, verifying vaccination certificates and test results with France's health pass is more complicated. Although the Tous Anti Covid app works on all smartphones, it is not yet compatible with other countries' certificates.
It's not yet clear how South Africa's Covid-19 vaccine certificates will be vetted in France and if all venues will accept physical documents presented by non-EU tourists. In the meantime, tourists can acquire a valid health pass every three days by undergoing a PCR test – which produces negative results – that will be verified through a QR code on the Tous Anti Covid mobile app.