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Coronavirus: French health minister says don't shake hands

French health minister Olivier Véran said the fight against the coronavirus had entered a new stage.
French health minister Olivier Véran said the fight against the coronavirus had entered a new stage. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Health minister Olivier Véran on Friday urged French citizens to avoid shaking hands as part of the battle against the spread of the new coronavirus after authorities revealed 19 more cases on Friday to take the total up to 57.


"A new stage of the epidemic has been reached," said Véran during a visit to Crépy-en-Valois where the first French victim of the virus worked as a teacher.

"We're at the second phase," Véran added. "That's to say the virus is going around our country and we have to stop it spreading. For a little while it's probably best not to shake people by the hand."

The health ministry has issued guidelines on how to minimise the risk of contamination - hourly washing of hands, sneezing into the elbow and using disposable handkerchiefs.

"This advice is more indispensable than ever," said Véran. "Absolutely everyone has a duty to look after themelves and those who are close to them. These little actions will help to protect a lot of people. We have to think of each other."


Emergency teams are investigating six cases from what has been described as a cluster in Annecy, eastern France, and six cases in a group that returned recently from Egypt. Two cases were reported in the southern city of Montpellier.

On Saturday, defence and security chiefs are due to meet to discuss the health crisis that has spread throughout the world after the first cases emerged in Wuhan province in China last December.

"We need to see where we are so that we can take all the necessary decisions which allow us to react and anticipate," said Véran.

Elsewhere in Europe, organisers cancelled next week's ITB travel trade fair in Berlin over coronavirus fears.


"With more than 10,000 exhibitors from over 180 countries, ITB Berlin is of great importance for the global tourism industry," said Christian Goeke, chairman of organisers Messe Berlin.

"We take our responsibility for the security and the health of our guests, exhibitors and employees very seriously. It is with a heavy heart that we have to look at the necessary cancellation of the ITB Berlin 2020."

The fair was due to open on 4 March but concerns grew over the prospect of hosting thousands of visitors as Germany recorded an increase in the number of infections.


With confirmed cases of coronavirus rising above 60, more than 1,000 people were in quarantine in Germany's most populous state on Friday.

The district of Heinsberg in North Rhine-Westphalia said it took the precaution of keeping around 1,000 inside their homes as an infected couple had participated in carnival celebrations in mid-February.

In Italy, where there have been 11 deaths, five football matches in the first division will be played behind closed doors over the weekend.

In neighbouring Switzerland football matches, carnival celebrations, concerts and the Geneva International Motor Show have been cancelled in an effort to prevent the spread of the infection after authorities reported 15 cases.


The government invoked emergency powers to suspend all public and private events with more than 1,000 participants until at least 15 March.

"We have taken, and will continue to take, all necessary precautionary measures, following the advice of public health officials, as we prioritise everyone's health and safety," said a government statement.

The Geneva motor show, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, had more than 150 exhibitors lined up for the 2020 extravaganza.

"We regret this situation but the health of all participants is our and our exhibitors' top priority," said Maurice Turrettini, chairman of the Foundation Board.

"This is a case of force majeure and a tremendous loss for the manufacturers who have invested massively in their presence in Geneva. However, we are convinced that they will understand this decision."


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