(Reuters) - Ivory Coast soccer fans watching the Africa Cup of Nations are being greeted at dedicated fan zones with rapid tests, masks and COVID-19 vaccines, an initiative of the health ministry to spur vaccination.
Soccer is the West African country's favourite sport and thousands of fans have flocked to the "Cup of Nations villages" in the commercial capital Abidjan where the matches are projected on giant screens.
One of the tournament favourites, Ivory Coast is in the same group as defending champions Algeria, and Sierra Leone. It defeated Equatorial Guinea 1-0 in their first game on Wednesday evening to top the group.
Masks are required within the fan zones, and stands have been set up for awareness-raising about COVID-19. Rapid tests and vaccines are also being offered at mobile clinics.
"We came with vaccines and more, to sensitize the population about the wearing of masks and compliance with protective measures," said Serge Yao Djezou, COVID-19 manager for the health ministry at the fan zone in Yopougon, a suburb of Abidjan.
Abidjan is the centre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ivory Coast, where cases have surged in recent weeks due to the highly contagious Omicron variant.
The country has administered enough doses to vaccinate about 14% of its 26 million population so far, according to data collected by Reuters.
It aims to double that figure by the end of June, said the health ministry.
"What motivated me (to get vaccinated) was the Ivory Coast match," said 31-year-old soccer fan Jean-Jacques Bakayoko after getting his shot at the viewing area in Yopougon, where dozens of young people were being inoculated.
Ivory Coast has reported at least 77,857 infections and 742 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.