PARIS (Reuters) – France will offer COVID-19 shots to anyone over 70 from this weekend, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday, as he sought to breathe more urgency into his country’s vaccination campaign.
France and its neighbours are suffering a third wave of infections that threatens recovery in Europe’s largest economies.
Hospitals could face an “unprecedented shock” within three weeks as infections explode, said the head of France’s hospital federation as he urged tougher curbs on social interaction if the spread did not slow soon.
New COVID restrictions that closed non-essential stores and limited how far people can move came into effect in Paris and much of the north last weekend, but Macron stopped short of a full lockdown.
“We’re going to accelerate the vaccine roll-out from Saturday,” Macron said while visiting a vaccination centre in the north.
The president later said he hoped there would be targeted campaigns for certain professions, such as teachers, by April or May and that in a race against time public holidays should be no barrier to delivering injections.
From Saturday, people over 70 will be able to get inoculated. Previously, the government had slated opening up vaccine slots for the age-group in mid April. Vaccinations are currently available for over-75s and anyone over 50 with a serious pre-existing condition.
France’s faltering campaign has been slowed by bureaucracy and public mistrust of vaccines at home, and Europe-wide supply delays, in particular from AstraZeneca.
The European Union has threatened to ban exports of the Anglo-Swedish vaccine to Britain in order to secure doses after the company this month said it expected to deliver three times fewer vaccines by the end of June than it had contractually committed to.
The EU says AstraZeneca shots manufactured on its territory have been exported to Britain even amid the shortfall. French Europe Minister Clement Beaune demanded Britain reciprocate. [
Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher, whose ministry is responsible for procurement in France, insisted AstraZeneca meet its contractual obligations.
“It is up to them to propose an action plan,” she told France Info radio.
The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care hit a four-month high in France on Monday.
“The epidemic is gathering pace, the figures are exploding,” Frederic Valletoux, who heads the French hospital federation, told LCI television.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Dominique Vidalon; Writing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Richard Lough; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Peter Graff and Giles Elgood)