By Michaela Cabrera and Clotaire Achi
PARIS (Reuters) - Thousands of people across France flocked to vaccination centres on Sunday as the government stepped up inoculations against the coronavirus to ease the load on hospitals and stave off further restrictions.
French authorities have come under criticism for the slow vaccination rollout, which has so far targeted the most vulnerable only. About 3.58 million people of France's 67 million population have received a first jab compared to neighbouring Britain, which is nearing 23 million.
While some European countries have resorted to sweeping national lockdowns to fight a resurgence in the virus spurred by new variants, France has opted for a less severe nightly curfew and the closure of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.
The country continues to see cases rise, averaging about 23,000 new cases a day compared with just over 6,000 in Britain, while intensive care units are increasingly saturated.
"It's a race against time," Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told reporters visiting one of four military hospitals opened on Sunday for vaccinations.
Some 220,000 people were vaccinated on Saturday, more than twice as many as last week. France expects to deliver 10 million first-round shots by mid-April and 30 million - or two thirds of all adults - by the summer.
In Paris on Sunday, where the virus is spreading faster than elsewhere in the country, there was relief among some who have struggled to get their vaccination.
"It turns out that I had to wait a long time for someone to respond, to give me an appointment," retiree Lucette Ugolini, 87, told Reuters at a vaccine centre after waiting six weeks.
Needing to vaccinate 200,000 people a day to reach its targets, it's not clear whether the government will get enough doses to have a quick enough impact to avoid a new lockdown.
"We can only hope that in four weeks, the government can give us the same allocations for the second injection, but we don't know. We're navigating without a clear roadmap. We do what we can," Ariel Weil, Socialist mayor for four central Paris districts told Reuters.
(Writing by John Irish;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)