The director of a company providing accommodation in the French Alps has said that the incompatibility of Covid systems between the UK and France could have a “disastrous” effect on the ski season this winter.
Tom Ward-Lee of Alps Accommodation, which offers apartments and chalets in the Grand Massif area, said the latest issue is with British children aged 12 to 15 not being able to get vaccination certificates that work with France’s health pass (pass sanitaire).
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Covid passes for travel are only available to people aged 16 and over. The NHS Scotland website states that “if you’re 12 or over, you can show your COVID Status for international travel”, although it is not clear if this will work as part of France’s health pass system.
A Covid health pass is mandatory for everyone over the age of 12 years and two months wishing to ski in France this winter. A health pass is proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid, proof of a negative Covid PCR or antigen test taken within the past 24 hours, or proof of having tested positive for Covid between 11 days and six months prior.
Mr Ward-Lee said that 12-15 year olds in the UK have no way of using their proof of vaccination as part of this health pass as the certificates they get do not contain the necessary QR code.
Mr Ward-Lee said he had spoken to a dozen families affected by this issue recently who were concerned about it scuppering their holiday plans.
In France, it is possible for people with non-EU vaccination certificates to get a QR code generated at certain pharmacies that is compatible with the health pass. However, this option is not available for British vaccination certificates as they are already valid with the health pass.
And Mr Ward-Lee said it is these types of issues that are proving problematic this winter.
“If the NHS App was available to under 16s the problem would be solved, or if pharmacies in France were allowed to create QR codes that could be scanned as part of the health pass the problem would be solved, but it just seems to be a glitch,” he said.
“The sooner they can find a [solution] the better. I certainly hope it is found before the February holidays or we are going to lose the British families from the French season, which would be a disaster.”
British newspaper i reported yesterday that an NHS Covid pass for travel would soon be made available to fully vaccinated 12 to 15 year olds.
It reported the The NHS Digital team as saying: “The Government is exploring ways to provide fully vaccinated children aged 12-15 with a travel NHS Covid Pass. This will be available soon, initially via an NHS Covid Pass travel letter. Further information will be made available online.”
There is no information on when this will be available.
Mr Ward-Lee said this was not the only issue, and that there had been a number of other rule changes recently, making the ski season complicated.
One is that France recently changed the validity of Covid tests from 72 hours to 24 hours. This means that if people wanted to use a test as part of the health pass, they would have to get one every day. The cost of an antigen test in France costs around €22.
Mr Ward-Lee said it meant that testing instead of using vaccination certificates was likely not a viable alternative for families coming to France with children aged 12 to 15 due to the cost.
He said another recent issue was when the Swiss government introduced a mandatory 10-day quarantine for British arrivals wishing to transit on to another country on November 27. This rule was dropped one week later, but Mr Ward-Lee said that it caused his clients to panic, and some pushed back their bookings to next year.
“It’s extremely tough to keep up with the constant changes,” he said.
“My customers want to have a holiday, they are desperate to go skiing. They didn’t get to do it last year.
“Two or three weeks ago when the Covid numbers were pretty low, we had a lot of bookings. I had a fantastic October for bookings. There was confidence. The French were booking too.”
He said that last year, when ski lifts were closed entirely, it was simpler.
“We knew where we were: the lifts weren’t opening, full stop,” he said.
“So, we had a relatively successful winter marketing to the French customers who could still come and enjoy the snow, snowshoeing, and ice climbing. But this year, it keeps changing.”
Mr Ward-Lee said that the pandemic has been tough for his business, but that he greatly appreciated the help of the French government.
“One of the good things about France is their social system, and there was a lot of solid support from the government and that’s what kept the business going. Without the French governmental support, I doubt we would have been able to survive this.”