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France starts vaccine-passport trials in bid to reopen travel

By TARA PATEL | Bloomberg | Published: April 27, 2021

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France is moving toward a broad rollout of digital health certificates with the start of trials on internal flights, putting it at the forefront of efforts to jump-start travel using so-called vaccine passports.

The country's year-old COVID-19 tracing app has been equipped with a new function to host virus test results and inoculation records and is being deployed on short-haul services between Paris and the Mediterranean island of Corsica, French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said Tuesday.

The move could pave the way for "a return to normal of flights in the next weeks and months," Djebbari said in a briefing at the capital's Orly airport.

France is the first country in the European Union to have a system up and running as part of the bloc's plan to introduce region-wide "digital green certificates" by mid-June. The French app already has roughly 15 million users, a far greater reach than others being tested in the region such as the AOKpass, CommonPass and International Air Transport Association Travel Pass.

The French trial will be extended to Air France-KLM flights to overseas territories next week and then to some neighboring countries, Djebbari said, adding that he's had talks with his U.K. counterpart on bilateral travel arrangements and is planning discussions with the U.S.

The system will allow the uploading of laboratory test results and vaccine records from France's centralized health-care system, building on the country's existing "TousAntiCovid" contact-tracing app.

Djebbari said the setup will limit fraud and hasten trips through airports. Though there are no plans to utilize the app for activities such as dining and shopping, the government is studying its use at events like concerts, conferences and festivals.

France is readying to lift lockdown restrictions next week that have kept people close to their homes for nearly a month. Within Europe, Greece has already started easing travel with some countries including those within the EU, with a full lifting of restrictions for international tourists set for May 15.

Germany, the EU's biggest economy, has yet to detail how it will roll out a digital health certificate. Berlin's Mayor Michael Mueller said Monday the country is still working on a system developed by a consortium led by International Business Machines that should be available from June.