Issued on: 06/04/2021 – 16:17

France on Tuesday converted its biggest stadium, the Stade de France, into a giant vaccination centre, dubbed a “vaccinodrome”, as the government races to keep its promise of a giant leap forward in administering Covid-19 jabs.

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The Stade de France on the northern outskirts of Paris, with a seating capacity of over 80,000, is one of nearly 40 “vaccinodromes” to be opened in the coming weeks as the country copes with a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Reporting from the stadium, FRANCE 24’s Luke Shrago said people from the Seine-Saint-Denis department, where the Stade de France is located, started arriving early Tuesday.

“The queues are stretching out behind me. People have been arriving all morning in the Seine-Saint-Denis department, which has been badly affected by the virus. At least 50 percent of the vaccinations here are initially going to local residents,” said Shrago. “Health authorities here are aiming for 10,000 jabs a week.”

Seine-Saint-Denis, one of the poorest departments in France, has been exceptionally hard hit by Covid-19, recording 800 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants – more than three times the emergency threshold.

Race against time

The opening of vaccinodromes across France are a visible sign that health authorities are stepping up the pace of inoculations following criticism over the slow initial rollout due to supply problems.

In March, the southern city of Marseille opened its velodrome for vaccinations, and Lyon followed suit last week, making available its Groupama Stadium, which reported 10,000 vaccinations over the Easter weekend alone. In the Paris area, a velodrome in the Yvelines suburb southwest of the French capital, also opened last month.

>> Read more: Yveline ‘vaccinodrome’: yellow jersey in the jab race

France is experiencing a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with intensive care admissions rising past the worst levels seen in the second wave in November 2020.

In response, the government has extended regional measures, including a nightly curfew and travel restrictions, to the entire country, and shut schools.

Increasing health capacity

President Emmanuel Macron has promised a sharp acceleration of the vaccination drive, aiming for a total of 20 million inoculations by mid-May for the nation of 67 million, and 30 million by mid-June.

More than a million new vaccinations were reported over the weekend, taking the total to have received at least one dose of the two-course treatment to 9.3 million.

The government hopes to take delivery of 12 million new vaccine doses in April.

The over 5,400 coronavirus patients in intensive care is still well short of the 7,000 recorded in April 2020 just after the start of the pandemic, but Health Minister Olivier Véran said Monday that “it’s possible that we’re getting closer” to the first-wave peak.

After cancelling or delaying non-Covid surgery appointments, France now has a total capacity of 8,000 intensive care beds available for coronavirus cases, he said.

The health ministry said it expected infection numbers to peak over the coming week, but that another increase was likely when primary school pupils return after a spring break at the end of the month.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)