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France will continue to use AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine, the health minister said Thursday after several European nations stopped its use due to concerns about blood clots.

Denmark, Iceland and Norway have suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations, and Italy stopped a series of bumps, but Olivier Veran said the French Medicines Agency advised against similar measures.

It had asked him to obey the EU Drugs Regulatory Authority’s decision that AstraZeneca was still safe to use.

“There is no need to suspend AstraZeneca,” Veran said at a press conference. “The benefits of vaccination at this stage outweigh the risks.”

France is working to speed up the introduction of vaccinations in hopes of avoiding a third lockdown.

Veran said the daily average of new infections was stable for France overall, but added that the number hid large regional differences.

The Ile de France, to which Paris, the northern region of Hauts de France and the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur belong, are the most important hotspots.

The daily number of admissions to the intensive care unit in the Paris region was now so high that the hospital capacity may be overloaded.

There are currently more than 1,000 ICU patients in the area, a number that could reach 1,500 by the end of March – a “critical level” – and very close to the worst numbers seen during the second wave of COVID, said Veran.

The authorities were preparing to evacuate “dozens or even hundreds” of ICU patients from the capital and its suburbs to other regions.

Nationwide, there were now more than 4,000 people in intensive care, up from 3,555 at the beginning of the month.

“The situation is tense and worrying,” said Veran. “We don’t know when the worst will be over or how bad it will be.”

In the meantime, the Ministry of Health announced that almost 20,000 pharmacies would take part in the vaccination campaign.

The fire brigade and army are also being drafted in greater numbers to help “national mobilization” following a call by Prime Minister Jean Castex.

France lags behind its big European neighbors when it comes to shots given due to lack of doses due to complaints of bureaucracy.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian had come into contact with an infected person, his ministry said, which meant that he would self-isolate for the next week.

He met colleagues from Germany, Egypt and Jordan on Thursday and held talks with US envoy on climate change, John Kerry, on Wednesday.

Also on Thursday, France relaxed travel restrictions for seven countries outside the European Union.

The government had banned all travel outside the EU without a valid apology as of January 31.

With the changing pandemic situation, “it will no longer be necessary to demonstrate a compelling reason to travel to or from Australia, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom,” the State Department said.

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