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French are becoming more accepting of Covid-19 vaccines, says PM

French Prime Minister Jean Castex, French Health Minister Olivier Véran, Grand Est Regional health agency director Virginie Cayre and Moselle prefect Laurent Touvet visit the Mercy Hospital on January 14, 2021, in Ars-Laquenexy, eastern France.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, French Health Minister Olivier Véran, Grand Est Regional health agency director Virginie Cayre and Moselle prefect Laurent Touvet visit the Mercy Hospital on January 14, 2021, in Ars-Laquenexy, eastern France. © AFP - Jean-Christophe Verhaegen

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday he was happy to see that the Covid-19 vaccination programme was starting to be more widely accepted by French citizens, who are among the most sceptical in the world towards vaccinations. 

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"I'm happy to see that the vaccination programme is being more widely accepted – it is excellent news for our country," Castex said while visiting a vaccination facility in the east of the country. 

France has vowed to accelerate and expand its vaccination programme after coming under fire for its slow rollout. Vaccinations kicked off at the end of December, beginning with staff and residents in care homes and those considered at risk of developing severe symptoms of the virus.

But unlike its European neighbours, France's rollout has been slow off the mark, with just 0.38 Covid-19 vaccines per million people administered compared to at least 4.52 in the UK, according to Oxford University's Our World in Data tracker.

Health Minister Olivier Véran suggested in late December that the government was proceeding slowly deliberately, to reassure people about the vaccine’s benefits.

Anti-vaccine sentiment is relatively widespread in France. An Ipsos poll published in November found that 46 percent of French adults said they would refuse a Covid-19 vaccine – compared to 21 percent in the UK and 30 percent in Germany. A 2019 Gallup poll found that one in three French people think all vaccines are dangerous – the highest proportion of respondents to say so in 144 countries surveyed.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are currently being administered in France. The EU is expected to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of January.

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Website for vaccine appointments launched

France recorded 23,852 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, up from 19,752 the previous day. Health ministry data also showed that 229 people had died from the virus in hospitals, compared with 355 on Tuesday.

The number of people in intensive care rose by double-digit numbers for the fourth consecutive day, up by 23 to 2,711. 

Castex will unveil new measures to rein in the pandemic in France later on Thursday, with French media reporting that a nationwide curfew from 6pm is the most likely option.

"The question has been raised about whether there will be another confinement," said FRANCE 24 International Affairs Editor Philip Turle. "I think that's going to be a last-ditch measure the government are going to introduce; I think they are moving more towards bringing in an earlier curfew."

The government was also due on Thursday to launch a website for Covid-19 vaccination appointments but the health ministry said the site had connection problems.

"The website is out of service", a spokeswoman for the ministry said. A message on the website said it was undergoing maintenance. 

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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