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France’s first ‘weekend mobilisation’ sees 585,000 people get Covid vaccine

More than two months after the Covid vaccination campaign began, France has seen it's first 'weekend mobilisation', with 585,000 people injected over Saturday and Sunday - a huge increase from previous weekends.

France's first 'weekend mobilisation' sees 585,000 people get Covid vaccine
People visit a vaccination centre in the Paris region on Saturday. Photo/ Thomas Samson/AFP

After Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the stepping up of the vaccination effort, centres around France opened on Saturday and Sunday and hundreds of thousands of eager recipients went to receive their jabs.

“We are calling for a national mobilisation,” Castex told reporters last Thursday. “Mayors, nurses, hospitals, everyone needs to be on deck, including the weekend.”

On Saturday, around 220,000 injections were administered country-wide, compared with 80,000-85,000 on a normal Saturday, with a weekend total of 585,000 injections, the majority of them first injections.

The prime minister, health minister and interior minister all visited vaccine centres over the weekend as the government pushes for more people to get vaccinated.

Health Minister Olivier Véran who also written to all the country’s healthcare workers, only 40 percent of whom are vaccinated so far, pleading with them to get the vaccine in order to protect themselves and their patients.

In southwest Paris, mayor Philippe Goujon was one of the local officials who answered the government’s call for a “national mobilisation” to accelerate weekend vaccinations – but wondered why the surge has taken so long.

In the town hall of the wealthy 15th district of the capital, hard-pressed doctors and municipal staff opened the doors of their vaccine centre on Saturday and Sunday.

“There’s a gigantic difference,” Goujon told AFP. “For a start we’re open at the weekend, and secondly we’ve gone from about a hundred vaccinations a day to 1,200.”

He dismissed any suggestion that the previous Monday-Friday operation was because of the sacred status of the weekend in France, where shops were long banned from opening on Sundays, or difficulties in finding volunteers.

“We didn’t have enough doses. It’s only an issue of doses,” he said as elderly people lined up outside ready to head into one of 10 different booths. “At the beginning we thought we’d open every day including Saturday and Sunday.”

By the end of the weekend, staff had injected well over 2,000 people, around three times the number seen in a usual week.

Mayor Goujon, who is from the opposition right-wing Les Républicains party, applauded the sense of urgency, but said it has come too late – and at a cost of lives and new infections.

“I heard the prime minister call for a national mobilisation. Why didn’t he do this a month and half or two months ago? We should have had this sort of organisation in place in mid-January,” he said.

Ten weeks since the first jab in France, the government is looking to adopt measures put in place by countries with the best vaccination track record, such as Britain and Israel.

There is talk of creating “vaccinodromes” with capacity to handle thousands of people per day.

The country’s pharmacies will be offering the vaccine from March 15th, while the fire service and the army are to be drafted in greater numbers to get more shots in arms.

Vaccination efforts have taken on new urgency because of an uptick in infections, which has led to weekend lockdowns for more than two million people in addition to a nationwide 6pm curfew.

So far France has administered around 5.5 million doses of the three vaccines authorised for use – Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca/Oxford University – according to government figures, with 1.9 million people having received both doses.

This compares with roughly 23 million first doses in neighbouring Britain, where less than 1 million people have received their second dose.

At the town hall in Paris, Odile Morisseau joked that France perhaps needed help from across the channel as she left the vaccination centre, a smile on her face.

She’d be keeping tabs on progress from friends in the UK, she said.

“Maybe we need to bring in Boris Johnson?” joked the 71-year-old, referring to the British prime minister. “I know he’s made mistakes, but they seem to be doing a good job with vaccinations.”

The problem faced by France is a lack of doses in some areas and a surplus in others.

“All our elected officials want more vaccines. I want more vaccines too!” the health minister told reporters on Sunday while noting the “exceptional efforts” over the weekend.

Other complaints include a time-consuming process to give consent for a vaccination, as well as reliance on an online appointment system that has baffled many elderly people.

READ ALSO Unanswered phones and long waits – the frustrations of getting a Covid vaccine in France 

“This was all great, perfect,” said Eveline Frantz, a retired German teacher, as she left the town hall on Sunday with her freshly jabbed father.

“But the general policy has been a complete mess.”

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TRAVEL NEWS

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

With travel opening up, many people are planning trips to France over the next few months, but the Covid pandemic has not gone away. Here are your questions answered on testing, isolation and medical treatment if you do fall sick while on holiday.

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

Travel rules

Covid-related travel rules have mostly been relaxed now but you will still need to show proof of being fully vaccinated at the French border. If you are not vaccinated you will need to show a negative Covid test – find the full breakdown of the rules HERE.

Testing

Once in France if you develop symptoms or you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive you will need to get a Covid test.

The good news is that testing is widely available in France, both for residents and tourists.

The easiest way to get a test is head to a pharmacy, most of which offer the rapid-result antigen test on a walk-in basis Tests are available to everyone who wants one, there is no need to fulfill any set criteria.

For full details on how to get a test, and some handy French vocab, click HERE.

The difference for tourists is that you will have to pay for your test, while residents get their costs reimbursed by the French state health system.

In the pharmacy you may be asked for your carte vitale – this is the health card that residents use to claim refunds. As a tourist you won’t have the card – you can still get the test, you will just need to pay for it. Costs vary between pharmacies but are capped at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test.

Isolation

If your test is positive you are legally required to isolate, but how long your isolation period is depends on the your vaccination stats – full details HERE.

Treatment

For most fully-vaccinated people without underlying health conditions the symptoms of Covid are fairly mild, but if you do become ill, here’s how to access medical help while in France.

Pharmacy – one of the first things you will notice about France is that pharmacies are everywhere, just look out for the green cross. As well as selling over-the-counter medication, pharmacies all have at least one fully-qualified pharmacist on the staff who can offer medical advice. 

Take advantage of pharmacists – they train for at least six years so they’re very knowledgeable and they’re easy to access by simply walking into the shop. In tourist areas it’s likely that they will speak English. Pharmacists can also signpost you to a nearby doctor if you need extra help.

Doctors – if you need to see a doctor, look out for a médecin généraliste (a GP or family doctor). There is no need to be registered with a doctor, simply call up and ask for an appointment if you need one. If you have a smartphone you can use the medical app Doctolib to find a généraliste in your area who speaks English. You will need to pay for your consultation – €25 is the standard charge and you pay the doctor directly using either cash or a debit card.

You may be able to claim back the cost later on your own health/travel insurance depending on the policy.

Ambulance – if you are very sick or have difficulty breathing you should call an ambulance – the number is 15. All non-residents are entitled to emergency treatment in France, whether or not you have insurance, but if you are admitted or have treatment you may need to pay later.

READ ALSO Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Paxlovid – several readers have asked whether the Covid treatment drug Paxlovid is available in France. It was licenced for use in February 2022 and is available on prescription from pharmacies, mainly for people with underlying health conditions or an impaired immune system. You can get a prescription from a medical practitioner.

The drug is reimbursed for French residents, but as a tourist you will have to pay.

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