France ‘two months behind UK’ on new Covid variant as vaccine delays blamed on logistics mess

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Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Immunization at Private French Clinic
Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 Immunization at Private French Clinic

France is “two months behind England” regarding the spread of the new Covid variant, according to a top expert, as the country’s sluggish vaccination rollout was on Wednesday blamed on a woeful lack of logistical foresight.

France officially has registered between 10 to 15 cases of the new, more contagious variant that is ravaging the UK.

However, Yazdan Yazdanpanah, a member of France’s scientific council, which advises the government, said: “The true number is probably far higher than the 10 to 15 announced.”

“True carriers are no doubt dotted around the country,” he told Le Figaro, even if he said that he didn’t think the variant’s presence was “very high” at present.

He added: “France is roughly two months behind England.”

That said, he added, “it is still too early to say for sure whether it will take hold in our country. That depends on measures taken to limit its spread”.

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Ambroise Pare Clinic in Paris, France, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. - Nathan Laine/BloombergA healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Ambroise Pare Clinic in Paris, France, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. - Nathan Laine/Bloomberg
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Ambroise Pare Clinic in Paris, France, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. – Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

French schools all opened on Monday and the country has a curfew in place but no blanket lockdown like in the UK.

Fears of the new variant came as major logistical failings were on Wednesday blamed on France’s slow start to vaccinations. 

President Emmanuel Macron has come in for intense personal criticism after it transpired that France had only administered a paltry 516 jabs in the first week.

Doctors injected 5,000 people on Monday and pledged to catch up with neighbours “within days”.

Gérard Larcher, president of the French Senate from the Right-wing opposition party, The Republicans, slammed the government for a “lack of preparedness” and “totally defective logistics”.

The government, he said, had “made a choice that is totally ill-suited to the types of vaccines available today” by not opting to vaccinate people en masse in single locations.

“There is no response other than collective vaccination due to the conditions for conserving” the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

The government initially ruled out large-scale vaccinations in single locations.

Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines after delivery to the Ambroise Pare Clinic in Paris, France, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.  -  Nathan Laine/BloombergVials of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines after delivery to the Ambroise Pare Clinic in Paris, France, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.  -  Nathan Laine/Bloomberg
Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines after delivery to the Ambroise Pare Clinic in Paris, France, on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. – Nathan Laine/Bloomberg

Mr Larcher called for a “a logistician” to be put in charge of rolling out the vaccine and for red tape to be slashed.

The criticism came as the French government confirmed reports that it had commissioned in December private consultancy McKinsey to help it with its “vaccine strategy”.

It said the government had the last word but opposition politicians called the move “alarming”.

France registered around 20,500 new cases on Tuesday compared to 61,000 in the UK and posted an R number of 0.91 compared to 1.1 to 1.3 in the UK.

The country posted 7,583 new hospital admissions over the past week compared to 17,175 admissions in a week in the UK.

The death toll in France on Tuesday since the pandemic struck was 66,282 compared to 76,305 in the UK.

Only 40 per cent of French say they are currently willing to be vaccinated compared to almost 80 per cent in the UK, the latest polls suggest.