[Update November 4 at 11:05 - the online portal for health pass QR code applications from non-EU tourists has now been closed down, making the pharmacy trial the only option for such visitors.]
A trial is underway into allowing French pharmacists to check foreign vaccination certificates and convert recognised ones into an EU format so holders can access the French health pass.
The move is part of efforts to facilitate tourism and follows a decree published on October 26.
A health pass is required in France to access many public sites such as restaurants, museums and theatres. This refers to a certificate or app showing an approved EU QR code as evidence of full vaccination against Covid with an approved vaccine, a recent negative test, or having recovered from the virus.
Pharmacies participating in an initial 15-day trial period of the new programme will be located near tourism-related sites such as airports, train stations, and major attractions.
It is expected that the option to offer the service will later be extended to all pharmacies.
At present, there is no directory of pharmacies offering the conversion services as the scheme is in its initial stages and early participants in the trial are still being recruited.
The pharmacies have been authorised to charge €30 (or €36 with taxes included) for the one-stop service.
For EU and most UK nationals, the problem does not arise, because their vaccination certificates and applications carry QR codes recognised by France and which can, if they wish, be scanned into France’s TousAntiCovid app.
Many visitors from elsewhere in the world have been able to enter the country but then found themselves turned away from restaurants and cultural sites and unable to take long-distance transport without the necessary QR code to present to controllers.
Currently, in order to obtain a French certificate with a recognised QR code foreign (non-EU/non-UK) visitors must send documentation via email to the French foreign affairs ministry in hopes that an email containing a QR code to be used with the TousAntiCovid app comes back within acceptable delays.
Without a French health pass, activities are limited to outdoor visits, excluding even eating or drinking at restaurant and café terraces. There is also the option of paying to get tested for Covid for a new health pass every 72 hours.
Weeks-long wait times have been reported over recent months for the email procedure. One reader emailed to say he had been waiting for 10 days after emailing documents on behalf of his Turkish fiancée, who had been denied entry to a museum due to not having a valid pass.
“What are the French doing? Are they deliberately trying to kill their non-European travel industry or just deprive their restaurants and bars of business?,” he wrote.
It is hoped that the new pharmacy conversion service will alleviate such problems and allow for tourism to continue as normally as possible through the later stages of the pandemic.
French authorities have raised the possibility of maintaining the health pass requirement into the summer of 2022, a subject of intense debate by both left and right sides of government.
On October 21, the Assemblée Nationale narrowly passed a first green light for the proposed vigilance sanitaire (health vigilance) law that provides, among other things, for the possibility of extending the health pass requirement until July 31, 2022, if officials later deem it necessary.