France Covid-19: Vaccines on track and no new lockdown
In a televised update today, the health minister said France was on track to vaccinate 4 million by the end of February and reiterated there were no immediate plans for a new lockdown
France is on track with its vaccination campaign, says the government, and has once again distanced itself from the idea of a new lockdown.
Health Minister Olivier Véran spoke to news service FranceInfo this morning. We summarise his key points.
The minister said that “between 3.5 million and 4 million people would have received at least one vaccine dose by the end of February”. This represents a slight increase on the government’s previous minimum target, which Prime Minister Jean Castex had said was set at between 2.4 million and 4 million.
Mr Véran added: “Yesterday, France overtook Germany and Italy [on giving the first dose].”
Based on the latest figures, France has so far given 1,871,604 first doses of the vaccine. A total of 248,614 people have had both necessary doses.
This is still far fewer than the total doses given in Italy, Germany, or the UK.
On vaccination roll-out, Mr Véran said: “[Appointments] are fully booked until the end of February; new slots will open in March.”
He also said France’s vaccination strategy had not changed, despite claims in recent days that the AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective both for older people and against the new South African variant.
Last week, Mr Véran said: “The South African and Brazilian variants are worrying us even more than the UK [variant].”
Yet, Mr Castex has said that the AstraZeneca jab is being rolled out to healthcare professionals first, and that its distribution would allow the country’s vaccination campaign to speed up, in line with WHO recommendations.
No new lockdown?
Mr Véran again suggested a new lockdown may not be necessary in France. He said: “We may never have to reconfine again. My wish is that we can, as early as possible, give the public back its freedom.”
He said that the epidemic situation in France was “high but stable”.
State of health emergency
The minister’s comments, about avoiding another lockdown, come on the day Parliament is set to vote on whether to prolong the current state of health emergency. It was first in place from March 23 to July 10, 2020 - and was reinstated on October 17, 2020. It could be prolonged until June 1.
A state of emergency is a temporary measure that allows the government to restrict certain freedoms, including imposing a nationwide lockdown.
It is expected to be extended although some critics say the decision is more “political” than motivated by health concerns.
Lockdown has not been ruled out if the health situation worsens, but last week President Emmanuel Macron said that he was hoping to keep the country “as open as possible”.
Mr Castex has said: “Everything must be put in place to avoid [a new confinement]”, and he last week urged the public to make a "collective effort... to make the virus retreat".