Stade de France opens as France's largest Covid-19 vaccine centre

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France’s largest stadium, the Stade de France, opened on Tuesday as its largest Covid-19 vaccination centre. Some 1,500 people made appointments for a jab at the venue to start a drive that health authorities hope will reach 10,000 injections per week.

The 80,000 seat arena in Saint Denis, north of Paris, which usually hosts international football and rugby matches or large concerts, is the latest to be turned into a massive Covid vaccine injection site, or “vaccinodrome”.

The playing field is being kept aside for matches but some 2,000 square metres of space have been made available to the public, who go through the same security protocols they would to attend a match.

“It’s still a stadium, and remains a sensitive spot,” programme director Loic Durosselle told RFI. “You have the same security measures: identity checks, patdowns et cetera.”

A call centre has been set up on the first floor, to manage appointments, half of which are reserved for residents of the Seine-Saint-Denis department, which has been hit hard by Covid and has the lowest vaccination rate of mainland France.

The other doses will be available to anyone eligible who can secure an appointment.

Health authorities are aiming for 10,000 jabs of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine per week in the stadium, in the short term.

"We will start with 15 lines, to reach 1,500 each day,” Jean-Christophe Combe, director of the French Red Cross, told the AFP news agency. “Now people need to have confidence and sign up.”

The southern city of Marseille opened up the football club's Vélodrome stadium for vaccinations last month, and Lyon's Groupama Stadium, administered 10,000 vaccinations over the Easter weekend alone.

President Emmanuel Macron has promised a sharp acceleration of the vaccination drive for France’s 67-million population.

He says he wants 20 million jabs administered by mid-May and 30 million by mid-June.

(with wires)