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France holds crisis meeting to outline actions to battle coronavirus

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (C) holds a crisis meeting with members of government, heads of parliament and senate and leaders of opposition parties, to address the outbreak of COVID-19 at Matignon, in Paris, on February 27, 2020
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (C) holds a crisis meeting with members of government, heads of parliament and senate and leaders of opposition parties, to address the outbreak of COVID-19 at Matignon, in Paris, on February 27, 2020 Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP

French Prime minister Edouard Philippe chaired an emergency meeting with government and opposition leaders Thursday to address the coronavirus outbreak as the country braces itslef for a confirmed epidemic. France has reported 18 cases so far and two deaths.

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Fighting the coronavirus will require "resources, calm and common sense," Philippe said Thursday following a rare meeting with political parties of every stripe.

All opposition leaders, excluding Marine Le Pen, agreed to back the government's response to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Sounding a discordant tone, the far right leader denounced the "incoherence" and "lack of preparedness" of French authorities.

Eager to show the government has the situation under control, President Emmanuel Macron visited a hospital where the first French victim was reported Thursday morning, promising extra resources to avoid a outbreak like the one gripping northern Italy.

Later in the day, Prime Minister Edourd Philippe laid out what those resources will look like:

  • 108 hospitals to be equipped to receive Coronavirus patients
  • 200 million extra masks ordered
  • Mayors have received an information kit for their constituents

    An eruption of more than 150 cases in Italy prompted officials there on Sunday to lock down at least 10 towns, close schools in major cities and cancel Venice carnival celebrations.

    No need to panic

    France is not at that stage yet Philippe said, describing the situation in Italy as the second phase in the course of the coronavirus oubtreak. He referred to three stages:

    • Stage 1: The circulation of the virus is limited
    • Stage 2: Cluster cases emerge prompting a quarantine of patients
    • Stage 3: Viral infection spreads to the whole of the country

    "Of course there is concern in France," Philippe acknowledged, but advised the public against stocking up on masks, saying it would create a shortfall instead.

    The government is doing everything it can to "isolate and treat suspect cases" coming mainly from countries worst hit by the outbreak, he said.

    France has reported 18 cases so far and two deaths.

    "There is no need to panic, but don't be negligent," Philippe added.

    Decisive point

    The best advice for limiting the spread of the virus he said is :

    • Wash your hands every hour
    • Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing
    • Use tissues only once then throw them away

    The prime minister also urged the public to listen to trusted sources of information, such as their doctor, rather than conspiracy theories online.

    The Work and Health ministers have called a meeting on Friday with business and trade unions to discuss the best measures to adopt in the work place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

    The World Health Organisation offered some guidelines in a tweet on Thursday. The body's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the coronavirus epidemic is at a "decisive point" and urged affected countries to "move swiftly" to contain the disease.

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