Epidemic travel permits in France date back hundreds of years

APR 27, 2020 LISTEN

Permission forms have become a regular feature of life under Covid-19 lockdown in France, where residents must carry a pass every time they leave the home. The measure to curb the coronavirus may seem unprecedented, but archives show the French were no strangers to the practice.

Today's travel permission form can be downloaded, handwritten or filled out on a smartphone. For six weeks, people in France have gotten used to carrying the authorisation for the slightest errand, as part of lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus.

Three centuries ago, download or app options were limited. But according to archives, the French were already carrying about compulsory paper travel passes during times of confinement.  

Historian Jérémie Ferrer-Bartomeu shared the document, dated 4 November 1720, from the Parisian bookstore Writing Traces. It shows the movement of a certain Alexandre Coulomb from his home in Remoulins in the Occitanie region, south-western France, to the town of Blauzac some 20 km away.

The pandemic of the day was no coronavirus, but the Great Plague of Marseille, which killed over 100,000 people.

Then, as now, restrictions on movement were essential to stop the spread of disease.

"Medical facilities were weak and so there was no choice but to ban travel," Ferrer-Bartomeu told the Huffington Post website.

Common history

If the 300-year-old document has raised eyebrows in light of today's lockdown, the historian says curfew passes have always been common.

"These travel permits were used regularly during the 16th and 18th century. Travel was restricted and inhabitants were not able to travel as they wished," he said.

Flouting the rules could get them hanged or shot dead. Three hundred years later, the punishment has softened.

Anyone found outside without their attestation or who is out for a reason that doesn't fall into one of several essential categories faces a fine of €135, or €200 if caught twice within a 15 day period.

ModernGhana Links

Join our Newsletter