France promises faster vaccine rollout after criticism

The French government, under pressure for lagging behind EU neighbours in rolling out Covid vaccinations, promised on Tuesday to dispense jabs much more quickly and catch up.

File photo: Agencies

Health Minister Olivier Veran said more than 2,000 people had been vaccinated on Monday and that the "cruising speed of vaccinations will catch up with our neighbours in the coming days".

The French campaign had rolled out just over 500 doses as of January 1, with critics calling that figure "a scandal" compared with the 200,000 people immunised in Germany in a similar timeframe, after the EU-wide rollout began a week ago.

President Emmanuel Macron, under pressure to take personal responsibility, met officials including Prime Minister Jean Castex on Monday to discuss the logjam.

"By Thursday we will increase numbers in a major way," Veran told RTL radio, saying that "we will be on an exponential curve".

France would now "amplify, accelerate and simplify" its vaccination strategy, he said.

Veran said vaccinations for people over 75 years of age who are not in care homes would be authorised by the end of January, covering five million people.

He said the campaign would also be widened to include firefighters and home helpers over 50.

France was currently taking delivery of 500,000 doses of a vaccine developed by Pfizer per week, Veran said.

Once approved for the EU, 500,000 doses of a vaccine by Moderna would be added every month, he said.

Scepticism about vaccines is making the government's task harder.

Just 40 percent of French want to take the vaccine compared with 77 percent in Britain, according to an opinion poll last week by Ipsos Global Advisor in partnership with the World Economic Forum.

Veran also said that France had detected "about 10 suspected or confirmed cases" of a new variant virus strain that emerged in England, adding that authorities were watching the highly-contagious mutant virus "like hawks".

French health authorities on Monday reported 4,022 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to 2.66 million.

French deaths from Covid totalled 65,415, they said, after 380 new deaths were recorded.