ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan is accelerating its vaccine roll-out by setting up drop-in vaccination points for anyone aged over 18 at shopping malls and bazaars visited daily by tens of thousands of people.
The Central Asian country, which has seen just over 4,000 deaths due to COVID-19, is fighting a fresh peak in infection rates.
Pyotr, a 65-year-old retiree who lives near a mall, decided to get a shot spontaneously and simply joined the queue.
“I was going to get a coffee after my morning run and it turns out one can get the vaccine here,” he said. “That’s convenient.”
The intention is to make inoculation as hassle free as possible.
“I’m off to the hairdresser’s, honey,” says a man in his fifties as he leaves his wife in the post-vaccination waiting room to be observed by a nurse for half an hour.
The centres set up in several large shopping malls and grocery markets in major cities allow visitors to get the shot without signing up in advance and, if there is no long queue, in less than an hour’s time.
They open at 8.00 am and staff members say many people visit early to get shots before work. The Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine is provided for free, including to foreigners working in the country whose numbers are significant among recipients, staffers say.
Sergey, 40, a Russian citizen, says he was happy to find out he was eligible for a shot.
“I’ve spent the whole lockdown at home, afraid to come out,” he said.
According to the operator of Mega Alma-Ata mall in Kazakhstan’s biggest city Almaty, its inoculation centre has served hundreds of visitors a day since opening last weekend.
Over half a million people in the oil-rich former Soviet republic of 19 million have received the first Sputnik V shot, according to official data, and some 108,000 have got the second one which is administered three weeks after the first.
Kazakhstan has reported over 330,000 COVID-19 cases and the number of daily new cases infections peaked at 2,842 on April 10.
While some restrictions remain in place with, for example, most schools still operating online, shops, cafes and restaurants have reopened and the services sector has posted positive monthly growth since February.
The International Monetary Fund this month upgraded Kazakhstan’s 2021 economic growth forecast to 3.2% from 3.0% citing its good record with early vaccinations as a factor.
(Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)