The mayor of Nice has urged French PM Edouard Philippe to introduce new travel controls during the Covid-19 pandemic through “health passports” in the parts of France which border other countries.

Christian Estrosi posted the details of his letter on Facebook a day after PM Philippe unveiled plans to ease France’s lockdown in May, including finally increasing the strict one-kilometer movement limit to 100km of a person’s home. Philippe warned that people would need to “learn to live with the virus” while also starting to increase their movement and return to work if the country is to avert economic disaster.

Estrosi suggests that the health passport would operate by showing that the bearer has tested negative for Covid-19 within the 48 hours before travel. The mayor’s proposal comes while France is still under severe lockdown restrictions introduced on March 17, with many residents eager to get back to a life resembling normality. Estrosi believes that a “health passport” could be the way forward for relaxing the measures even further – while limiting the negative impact on public health. 

France is not the first country where this proposal has been raised as a possible solution to reopening the economy amid a global pandemic. Other EU governments – including Italy and Greece – are also mulling over the implementation of a “health passport” system this summer in order to revive their struggling tourism industries. 

The tourism sector makes up just over 10 percent of the EU’s GDP, and has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as whole nations locked down in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Airlines have been severely affected, with the UN aviation agency predicting a 1.5 billion drop in the number of air travelers this year.   

It’s worth noting that there is a distinction between Estrosi’s “health passport” proposal and the “immunity passport” solution that Germany has been considering. The health passport would require regular testing of individuals for current infections, while the immunity passport would involve antibody tests, which are far less reliable and it’s not yet clear whether antibodies are an indication of immunity against further Covid-19 infection, as recently flagged by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Both ‘passport’ types, however, have brought up concerns about the trade-off between individual privacy and easing nationwide lockdowns.

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