SAINT-DENIS: The French stadium that hosted World Cup finals in soccer and rugby is taking on a new role in response to the COVID-19 pandemic: it is becoming a vaccination centre.
Workers at the Stade de France venue were on Wednesday putting up tents for use as vaccination cubicles inside a hall in the bowels of the stadium that in pre-pandemic times was used to host conferences and VIP receptions.
The Stade de France is due to host the French soccer cup final in May, the final of the domestic rugby competition in June, and a concert by US performer Lady Gaga in July, but these should be unaffected because the pitch and locker rooms are not part of the vaccination centre.
"We're very pleased that this flagship of French sport can also be a vaccination centre," said Loic Duroselle, head of programmes at the stadium.
The stadium will start vaccinating people on April 6. It is aiming to inoculate around 10,000 a week, said Duroselle, and will employ 150 staff each day.
The 80,000-seat Stade de France was the venue of the 1998 soccer World Cup final, won by the home team, and it also hosted the 2007 rugby World Cup final.
The opening of a vaccination centre at the stadium is part of a drive by the French government to accelerate its vaccination programme.
Around 11% of the French population has been given at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while in nearby Britain, the figure is at 45%, according to Reuters data.
Rolling out the vaccinations has become more urgent in France because the rate of infection is rising, and doctors say intensive care units in parts of the country are at risk of being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.