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Hundreds of thousands of people in northern France were locked down again on Saturday as health officials stepped up a nationwide vaccination campaign to make amends after a slow start.
Paris police meanwhile moved in to evacuate people from the banks of the Seine after the crowds ignored social distancing guidelines to make the most of a sunny spring day.
The residents of Pas-de-Calais on the north coast joined those in the port of Dunkirk – and in the Mediterranean town of Nice – which are already closed on Saturdays and Sundays.
This means that more than two million people across France are subject to weekend restrictions on staying at home unless they can provide a written waiver.
With 90 percent hospital capacity in Pas-de-Calais, the region’s top official insisted the new restrictions were necessary to keep local health services from becoming overwhelmed.
Two thirds of the cases recently registered there were the more contagious variant, which was first discovered in England.
However, with curfew from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and non-essential businesses are closed, the new restrictions will continue to hit businesses already under pressure.
COVID-19 has killed 88,300 people across France, according to the latest figures as of Saturday.
The government is trying to step up its vaccination campaign to give a first stab to 10 million people by mid-April, 20 million by mid-May, and 30 million by summer.
So far, however, fewer than 3.4 million people in France have received at least one dose of the vaccine – compared to more than 22 million in the UK.
New vaccination sites
This weekend, the French campaign focused on those over 75 and the people most vulnerable to the more serious form of COVID-19.
Four military hospitals across the country opened vaccination stations on Saturday. New centers have opened in Pas-de-Calais, while around 100 have been opened across the Paris region.
“I had to wait 10 minutes, which is not bad!” said the 76-year-old Alain Serra in the northeast of the capital.
In the Haute-Garonne region in the south-west, a mobile vaccination station was put into operation in the Ernest Wallon stadium in Toulouse.
“I’ve been waiting impatiently for this,” said Laurence, who said he was in one of the risk categories. “I hope I can get back to a normal life.”
Prime Minister Jean Castex on Saturday promised to put everything into one major vaccine push-out in March and April.
The coming weeks would be crucial in staying one step ahead of the virus’ spread, he said.
The government has chosen to take targeted measures in the hardest hit regions to avoid another economically devastating nationwide lockdown.
In Paris, police on Friday extended an outdoor alcohol ban to the banks of the Seine in an attempt to reduce the crowd that gathers to enjoy the spring sunshine.
While the ban was broadly respected, officials had to move in on Saturday to clear the banks of the river as the Parisians who ignored social distancing guidelines were too close to each other.
The French medical order, meanwhile, appealed to all health workers to set an example and get vaccinated. So far, sales in the industry have only been 30 percent.
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© 2021 AFP
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