Authorities in Cameroon say thousands of people have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine so they can attend the continent's top soccer tournament, the Africa Football Cup of Nations (AFCON), which begins January 9.
Organizers are putting out the word that even if they have been vaccinated, fans will also need to present a negative test to enter stadiums. Motorcycle taxi drivers assemble and wait to be vaccinated against COVID-19 at Messasi Hospital in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde.
Among them is 29-year-old Gabriel Ndze, vice president of the local taxi drivers association. Ndze says he wants to see the AFCON matches, and this is the only way.
"I am not taking the vaccine because I really trust it. No. My main problem is to get to the field, see players like Sadio Mane from Senegal, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and all of those strikers that play in Europe. I have been hearing about them but I have not seen them. This is an opportunity for me to take my vaccine, then get to the field to see them. Most of the people are taking this vaccine now just because of the Nations Cup," he said.
Ndze said the taxi drivers association has been encouraging members who want to see the AFCON matches to voluntarily get the COVID-19 vaccine. He said at least 300 motorcycle taxi riders have been vaccinated.
Hotels, restaurants and bus companies are also urging their staff to get the jab, so they are eligible to interact with the thousands of people coming to Cameroon for AFCON.
Fans are required to be vaccinated as well. Last month, the government said access to stadiums will depend on presentation of vaccination cards. The Confederation of African Football (CAF), said fans will also be expected to show proof of negative COVID-19 test results that are not more than 24 hours old.
Those who do not have test results can be tested for COVID-19 at the entrance to football stadiums. Dr Georges Alain Etoundi Mballa, director of pandemics and epidemics at Cameroon’s public health ministry, says besides increasing the number of vaccination centers, Cameroon has imported several million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China, Europe and America so that AFCON can be played in excellent sanitary and health conditions.
He says most people who are getting the vaccine tell vaccination teams that they do not want to miss AFCON, which is the most coveted football event in Africa.
All soccer fans, players and officials coming from abroad are being tested for COVID-19 at airports, seaports and roads upon arrival in Cameroon. People testing positive for the virus are isolated or taken to hospitals for treatment.
Authorities have not said how many visiting fans, players and match officials have been tested positive.