Thousands have spent the Easter holiday lining up for injections at hippodromes, velodromes and other sites as France tried to speed up vaccinations amid a new rush of coronavirus cases.
But as Europe celebrated its second Easter in a row under the cloud of the pandemic, some cities put vaccinations on hold during the long holiday weekend – defying French President Emmanuel Macron’s insistence that “there are no weekends or days off during vaccination”.
Medical workers need “a little rest at last,” said an official with the French city of Strasbourg, which shut down vaccination facilities from Good Friday until Easter Monday, a public holiday.
To ensure that residents still had access to potentially life-saving vaccines, Strasbourg expanded vaccination hours and administered all of its weekly supply of doses between last Monday and Thursday, the official said.
Spain, Italy and Germany faced a similar holiday vaccination challenge.
Spaniards lined up for shots on Easter Sunday in Barcelona and other points around the country, but Madrid halted vaccinations at local health centres to give staff a break. The Spanish capital continued to give shots at a football stadium and a new hospital built to help handle pandemic cases.
With Spain fearing yet another surge of infections like the one now overwhelming French intensive care wards, Spanish health minister Carolina Darias had urged regional authorities to keep up vaccinations throughout Easter week.
The French city of Sarcelles, north of Paris, was among those whose vaccination centre stayed open on Easter Sunday, amid mushrooming cases and demand. The centre’s organisers planned to inject 2,000 doses on Sunday – twice their daily average.
Those waiting to get inside felt lucky and relieved. The surrounding Val d’Oise region now has the highest coronavirus infection rate in France, and the situation in Sarcelles symbolises how the pandemic has worsened existing inequalities.
“The problem is with people who do not qualify yet and are in a hurry, which I understand as they want to get back to a normal life,” said Dr Majida El Mokhtari. “Unfortunately we are not able to vaccinate everybody with the doses that are distributed to us.”
The city’s working-class residents have higher exposure to the virus because many cannot work remotely. In the area’s housing projects, many families have multiple generations living in close quarters. Language barriers make sorting out vaccination arrangements a challenge for many immigrants.
French football club Olympique Lyonnais opened its stadium and provided volunteer employees to help medical workers and firefighters with a mass vaccination drive that started on Saturday. Authorities plan to administer 3,000 doses per day during the first three days.
Club president Jean Michel Aulas expressed hope that the effort would help create “social cohesion” at a time of strain and uncertainty, as France entered a third partial lockdown starting on Sunday.
Meanwhile, the French military announced that it would open seven vaccination centres starting on Tuesday to help inject civilians.
In Italy, those fortunate to get a vaccine in Milan on Sunday received an Easter cake in the shape of a dove and packages of pasta. Only one hospital in the city administered vaccines on Easter, according to Italian media. Among those administering the injections at Milan’s Niguarda Hospital were retired hospital doctors volunteering their time.
German vaccination centres appeared to mostly stay open over the holiday, but numbers of injections are typically slower on weekends.