France's Macron seeks faster vaccination rollout

Valenciennes, France: France should be vaccinating "morning, noon and evening", President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday as he battles criticism that the Covid-19 immunization drive has been too slow.

"We're going to change pace from April," Macron said during a visit to an inoculation center in the northern town of Valenciennes, adding there should be "no weekend and days off when it comes to vaccinations".

France is tackling the third wave of infections but is lagging behind many Western countries in terms of the number of people vaccinated.

It has rolled out some 8.8 million doses, compared with over 30 million in Britain and nearly 11 million in Germany.

While the inoculation drive has speeded up in recent weeks, it has failed to keep in step with a spike in new cases, which prompted the government to place a third of the population under partial lockdown last weekend.

On Monday, Health Minister Olivier Veran announced that the army would set up 35 mass vaccination centers.

Until now, France has been relying on community halls, hospitals, doctor's surgeries, and pharmacies while the US, Britain, and several other countries have requisitioned stadiums.

France, which has some of the world's most protective labor laws, has also taken a relatively leisurely approach to administer vaccines over the weekend.

The government has complained that delays and shortfalls in vaccine deliveries, particularly supplies of the AstraZeneca vaccine, have hampered its fight against the pandemic.

European governments are furious that the Anglo-Swedish heavyweight has been able to fully honor its UK contract while falling short on its supplies to the EU.

On Tuesday, Macron vowed to continue applying "very strong pressure" on the company to ensure that it respected its agreement with the EU.

The handling of the health crisis has consequences for the 43-year-old centrist, just over 12 months from presidential elections, in which he is expected to seek a second mandate.

With polls showing growing lockdown fatigue, Macron had for weeks tried to avoid ordering the French back indoors for the third time.

But with hospitals in several areas struggling to cope with Covid caseloads, the government last week announced a month-long limited lockdown for Paris and several other regions.

Non-essential businesses in the affected regions were forced to close and socializing has been banned, but schools remain open and outdoor exercise is allowed up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) from home.

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