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Covid health pass: What can Germany learn from France?

Covid health pass: What can Germany learn from France?
A sign outside a Munich restaurant informs guests that entry is only permitted for vaccinated, recovered or people with negative tests. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe
Germany has its own version of a Covid health pass - the 3G rules. But does it actually do the job? The Local editor Rachel Loxton found Germany could learn lessons from its neighbour after a recent trip to Paris.

While surveying the terrace for a table in a Paris bar on a sunny Friday afternoon, an employee stopped us. 

“Pass sanitaire?” he said a few times before I understood what was going on. “Oh, the Covid health pass,” I said as I fished out my phone to present the EU digital certificate I received in Germany. After it was scanned, we were free to find a table in the sun. 

Despite Germany having its own version of the ‘pass sanitaire’ – the 3G rules that mean entry to indoor spaces is only allowed if you can show proof of vaccination (geimpft), recovery from Covid (genesen) or a negative test (getestet) – I get the impression that the Covid health passport culture is different to that of France. 

In Berlin, for instance, I have dined indoors a few times recently, visited an exhibition and a bar – and not once been asked for proof of vaccination, recovery or test.

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“Here in Paris most places ask for the pass, and it’s surprising how quickly it has become normal,” The Local France editor Emma Pearson tells me.

“It takes a second just to have your phone scanned by a waiter or security guard and personally it makes me feel a lot more relaxed about socialising.”

Emma says readers of The Local suggest that the pass is asked for less often in smaller places like village bars, but there doesn’t seem to have been “any type of widespread refusal of businesses to enforce it”.

“So far I have not seen anyone protesting when being asked to show the pass, and I’ve only witnessed a couple of tourists who were confused about the system, everyone else seem to have made it a habit pretty quickly,” she adds. 

OPINION: Majority of French have accepted the health passport with little more than a shrug

During my weekend in Paris I also had my vaccine certificate scanned when going to a museum and eating out.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has his health pass checked as he arrives to take part in a three-day-gathering of French ruling liberal party La Republique on September 6th, 2021. Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

That’s not to say that proof is never asked for in Germany. In gyms, for instance, I’ve heard they always ask for one of the Gs before you’re allowed inside to sweat with strangers (thankfully). Events and places where ticketing is needed at the door like cinemas, are on the whole more strictly enforcing the rules.

My EU vaccination certificate has also been checked before travelling by plane from Berlin. 

Yet it’s clearly very patchy. According to a survey released earlier this week by the opinion research institute Civey for Business Insider, 40 percent of respondents said the 3G or 2G (only for vaccinated or recovered people) rules in Germany were not enforced when they visited a restaurant, bar, cinema or other indoor event. 

Just under 30 percent said proof was checked but they did not have to show photo ID as well, which is meant to be the requirement. Only nine percent had their documents fully checked.

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So why hasn’t Germany embraced the culture of showing the digital pass in the same way as France – or even other EU countries like Italy?

Trust system

I suppose restaurants, bars, cultural and leisure facilities are trusting customers to have been vaccinated or taken a test. Perhaps they don’t want to dampen the mood by asking people to provide some kind of documentation during social gatherings.

After rafts of businesses being shut down by the government for several months last year and in the first half of 2021, restaurants, cafes and bars are simply happy to see guests again and actually be allowed to make money. Why risk turning people away or making them feel awkward?

We all know that Germany is a freedom-loving country, too, and perhaps asking everyone to get proof out is viewed as a controlling step too far. Small businesses are also understaffed and maybe they don’t want to take on additional bureaucratic burdens.

But given the high percentage of people in Germany who have not been vaccinated, I would feel better knowing that everyone has shown proof during social occasions. Particularly when visiting places like Berlin’s infamous Raucherkneipen (smoking bars) which are not known for their high-quality ventilation. 

The latest data shows 66.3 percent of the German population has received at least one jab and 61.9 percent are fully vaccinated. That’s a long way off health experts’ plea for 80-90 percent vaccination coverage. 

READ ALSO: Unvaccinated workers in Germany could lose pay in quarantine

The restrictions on entry only apply in Germany to indoor areas like dining in restaurants or bars. I also prefer the French way of requiring the proof to sit outside too. Because why not? We’ve gone to all this trouble of vaccinating millions of people, let’s show the proof – or at least make sure people are tested.

“My personal view is that I feel a lot more safe and secure going out for dinner, drinks, etc, knowing that everyone around me is either vaccinated or has tested negative,” says Emma from the Local France. “This will be important over the next couple of months as the temperature falls and socialising moves off the café terraces and indoors.”

Different system 

In France, a QR code has become the standard way of showing proof of vaccination. Although not perfect, it seems that the majority of businesses and people have accepted it. The system can also be used with the EU digital vaccine certificate, like the one we can get in Germany.

“So far there seems to have been fewer problems than anticipated and most of the technical problems have concerned people who were vaccinated outside France,” says Emma.

“EU vaccine certificates can be used on the French app for the health passport but it’s been more tricky for people who got their vaccines in non-EU countries, although the NHS app used in parts of the UK is now compatible with the French system.

“For people who got their vaccine in France the rollout has been remarkably smooth and I think it helped that they made it part of the TousAntiCovid app, which many people were already using. There is also an option to show proof on paper for people who either don’t own a smartphone or don’t want to use the app.”

Germany does not require that everyone has an official QR code, although we are encouraged to get it. People in the Bundesrepublik – a privacy-loving country famous for  shying away from digital upgrades – can use their yellow vaccination booklet or other proof of vaccination, recovery or test.

I think the different ways of showing proof has added to the feeling that it’s not quite a uniform system that everyone is part of. 

Would it make a difference?

Emma says there were two points to the health passport being introduced in France. “To control infection rates and to persuade people to get vaccinated by making daily life inconvenient for those who are not vaccinated,” she says. 

“The vaccination rates saw a huge spike straight after the passport was announced and more than 13 million people have now been jabbed since the date of the announcement. France is now among the European countries with the highest vaccination rates, which is not bad when you consider that back in January 60 percent of French people were telling pollsters that they might not get the vaccine.”

Although the two countries have roughly the same percentage of their population vaccinated at the moment, I wonder what the effect of a similar system to France could be on Germany. 

Of course, the countries differ on many points – France has also introduced mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers – so there are lots of factors to consider.

When it comes to infection rates it’s harder to tell.

France is seeing around 11,000 cases a day, although that’s been dropping steadily for over a month. 

“However that also coincided with the summer holidays – whether that can be sustained now that schools are back, people are back from holidays and in offices etc., remains to be seen,” says Emma. 

As Germany’s vaccine campaign has ground to an almost halt and Covid cases have generally been rising since July – on Friday 12,969 cases were logged within 24 hours – perhaps enforcing a stronger health pass message would be a helpful way of getting everyone on the same page. 

That’s not to say France hasn’t seen problems.

“There have been demonstrations every Saturday for six weeks now,” Emma says. “However, at their peak around 250,000 people demonstrated while 13 million went to get vaccinated. My impression among people I talk to is that it is accepted and in fact a lot of people actively like it.”

A demo outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris against the health passport on September 4th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Thibault Camus

What’s with the German name?

Lastly, it’s hard to write an article about 3G rules in Germany without mentioning the name. As some people have pointed out on Twitter, it’s a bit baffling that Germany has chosen to use a name associated with mobile phone Internet coverage. Not least because there are some conspiracy theorists who believe that getting vaccinated is linked to Bill Gates implanting us all with 5G microchips (for the record – no, that is not happening, it’s fake news.) 

3G makes perfect sense in German since it refers to the German words for vaccinated (geimpft), recovered (genesen) and tested (getestet).

But I can’t help but think another name such as CovPass, which is the German app that many people use to upload their vaccination certificate, might have been a better choice in this case. Especially since Germany is desperately trying to convince vaccine sceptics to get their jabs. 

It’s fair to say every country has its own battles when it comes to Covid vaccinations and controlling the pandemic, and Germany has had its ups and downs. 

I do think that looking to France on the relative success of their pass sanitaire would be a helpful exercise. I and many others are more than happy to show our vaccine certificate before settling down for a beer. 


Member comments

  1. Although I use CovPass as well, I don’t think its application in Germany is correct. No one scans it and performs a cross-check (idk from a centralized database or ID) you can also show a screenshot o someone else CovPass or even a meme, no one checks…

  2. I don’t really understand why it would be reassuring to know that everyone around you is vaccinated, considering the increasing evidence coming out – eg data from Israel, the USA and the UK, that a double vaccinated person can still catch and transmit the virus, and many vaccinated people are still ending up in hospital… this is not “fake news” it is mainstream, official data.

    1. It’s slightly reassuring, given the evidence out there is that vaccinated individuals are less likely to pass it on, especially to other vaccinated people) They work like masks. Not 100 percent, but if both parties wear one / or are jabbed then they work pretty well. What’s more reassuring going out in France is that rates are for the moment dropping thanks to he vaccine roll out and the implementation of the health pass, which both pushed the vaccine roll out as article says and continues to help keep infections down reducing chances of big clusters in bars, restaurants, clubs… USA and UK don’t use the health pass, would the rates be lower if they had done?

      1. The thing is, we are seeing some of the most heavily vaccinated countries (eg Israel) with some of the highest rates of Covid infections. Israelis are even banned from travelling to various European countries because of the high rates there. In the USA, it seems that the most highly-vaccinated States are seeing the highest rates of infections. It does not add up to a very reassuring picture…

        1. >  “In the USA, it seems that the most highly-vaccinated States are seeing the highest rates of infections.”

          NO, that is backwards. The most cases, including in ICU, are in the least-vaccinated areas.

          >  (earlier) “many vaccinated people are still ending up in hospital”

          Massive overstatement. E.g., here in France, according to the TousAntiCovid app, ten times as many UN-vaccinated are in ICU (32 vs 3 per 1m). The hospitalisation rate should be similar, since that ratio of about 10-to-1 also holds for positive tests – and it’s known when there is a “breakthough” case (i.e., when a fully-vaccinated person nonetheless does get a case), it’s very likely to be a mild case.

          >  (even earlier) “I don’t really understand why it would be reassuring to know that everyone around you is vaccinated…”

          Keep in mind, in the situation being discussed, YOU are also vaccinated (ideally), currently immune due to having had a recent case and recovered, or (not so good) had a very recent negative test. That means that if a vaccinated person is a carrier, then (except in the negative test case) you should be quite safe. And versa-visa: If you happen to be a carrier (or infected since your negative test), the others should be quite safe. VikaumT’s analogy with masks (and social distancing) is spot-on.

  3. Scott>  “your idea of freedom is one that is dependent on your government and whatever it tells you to put in your body?”

    I want to live in a society where I can be free from fear, free from hate, free from poverty, and where the children can expect those same freedoms and a better quality of life.

    At the moment, none of that is possible. Partly, albeit obviously not exclusively, due to the vaccine refuseniks.

    I must fear for the unvaccinated children (the vaccines aren’t yet authorised or available for children). Far too many cases now are in children, because the refuseniks are keeping the virus circulating, and providing opportunities for new mutations (variants) to evolve.

    Whilst fully-vaccinated myself (it’s easy, free, safe, and quite effective), I have some fear for myself. Whilst rare, I might get a “breakthough” infection, again because the refuseniks are keeping the virus circulating, etc. And I and experts fear some new variant the refuseniks are helping to evolve could evade the protection of the vaccines.

    And, because being vaccinated doesn’t mean I’m not a carrier, I could be (inadvertently) infecting others, especially refuseniks (and those who legitimately cannot be vaccinated). I dislike vaccine refusal, but still don’t want to infect a refusenik. And I’d feel terrible if I happened to be the carrier who infected one of those rare people who, for a valid MEDICAL reason, cannot be vaccinated. (And also infecting children, as per above.)

    The anti-Health Pass protestors have shown an astonishing amount of hate: At Jews and other “others”, at the scientifically literate, at politicians because they don’t like some policy or another, etc. There’s nothing wrong with protesting a policy, it’s the hate expressed towards people (be they politicians or someone else) that is disturbing. There’s no dictator with brown-shirted thugs here. Hating at the person because of a disliked policy (or their origins, etc.) is confused and alarming.

    The refuseniks are also slowing down the reopening of the world’s economy by keeping the virus circulating. Lockdowns, disliked as they often are, do work, something understood even in the Middle Ages. But for economic and mental health, at least, lockdowns do eventually become problematical. I don’t want another lockdown nor its challenges to the finances, but the refuseniks are avoiding the one way out of the pandemic: Vaccines. As a result, the pandemic continues.

    Changing gears slightly, “freedom” doesn’t mean driving without a license and insurance on a public road (nor whilst drunk), not paying taxes (annoying as that is!), owning slaves, bombing libraries (or much of anything), peeing into someone else’s front garden, using a kangaroo hammer (jackhammer) at 6am on Sunday morning (something that DID happen to me!), and so on. Helping to end the pandemic with proof you did so is a nothing-burger, not an attack on any “freedom” – refusing the vaccine and proof IS an attack on the freedoms enumerated (from fear, etc.).

  4. Vaccinated people are much much less likely to get sick; and if they do get sick, much less likely to have a serious case; and if they do have a serious case, much less likely to wind up in ICU.

    Vaccines are a Preventative.
    They are effective, safe, and free. Over 5 billion jabs have been administered world-wide, with very very few serious side-effects (the rhetorical “one-in-a-million” happens to be about the rate).

    Testing is neither a Preventative nor a Treatment.
    And here in France, you will soon (October 15th) have to pay for “convenience” Testing (e.g., to use it with the Health Pass).

  5. So let’s get this straight, your idea of freedom is one that is dependent on your government and whatever it tells you to put in your body?

    The mental gymnastics here are staggering.

  6. The “freedom” bit is having the freedom to go to a bar or café, because they are open. They are still open because of all the millions of people who have got vaccinated. They would have been shut again by now if the vaccines were not helping break transmission rates and keeping most of those who test positive out of hospital. So yeh “freedom” and showing proof of vaccination do go together fine right now. No says it’s ideal. But give me that over being stuck at home in a lockdown again. That was the biggest infringement on freedom. Time to crack on

  7. If it’s about health and safety, and knowing that Covid is just as easily spread by both the injected and the non injected, testing is much more reliable. I’m guessing you wouldn’t be such a cheerleader for the ‘health pass’ if it meant having to pay for a test every time.

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