Stade de France becomes giant vaccine centre with space for 10,000 injections a week

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

Stade de France becomes giant vaccine centre with space for 10,000 injections a week

Built for the 1998 football World Cup, the stadium on the northern outskirts of Paris has a seating capacity of over 80,000 and is usually reserved for top sports events such as international football and rugby matches or major pop concerts.

But from early on Tuesday morning people were queueing to get an injection in the latest, and biggest, of France’s stadiums to be converted for coronavirus inoculations, which have been dubbed “vaccinodromes”.

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.

Staff prepare at the Stade de France vaccine centre. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / POOL / AFP

The Stade de France, in stark contrast to the showy events that usually take place there, is located in the nation’s poorest area. The départment of Saine-Saint-Denis has been very hard hit by Covid, recording 800 cases for every 100,000 inhabitants – more than double the national incidence rate.

In the short term, health authorities are aiming for 10,000 jabs per week in the stadium.

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 for three weeks.

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.

After much criticism over the slow start to France’s vaccine rollout, the programme has recently increased speed.

People arrive to be vaccinated against Covid-19 at a vaccination centre set up at the Stade de France in Paris’ northern suburbs. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / POOL / AFP

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 Covid 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 on 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 Easter break at the end of the month.

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France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.