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CORONAVIRUS - FRANCE

France bans public gatherings of 1,000 people over coronavirus

France's government announced Sunday it would ban public gatherings of more than 1,000 people in efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19.
France's government announced Sunday it would ban public gatherings of more than 1,000 people in efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19. Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

France has banned public gatherings of more than 1,000 people to try and slow the spread of Covid-19, the health minister said Sunday, as the country prepared to transition to an alert level that would mean widespread school and transit closures.

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The new restrictions on gatherings will mainly affect sporting and entertainment events. Health Minister Olivier Véran said officials would issue a list of events considered “useful to national life” that would be allowed to continue, including some public demonstrations.

The ban extends previous restrictions on gatherings of more than 5,000 people that was set to run until 15 April. Véran did not specify the limits of the new and stricter ban.

France’s largest annual book fair and tattoo convention have been cancelled. Paris Saint-Germain’s Ligue 1 match at Strasbourg on Saturday was postponed, as was the women’s Six Nations rugby showdown between France and Scotland.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire warned Monday morning that the spread of the coronavirus meant economic growth would most likely fall short of the 1.3 percent of GDP expected in 2020.

“It’s highly possible it will be less than 1 percent of GDP in 2020,” Le Maire said, calling for “strong, massive, coordinated” stimulus spending on the part of the European Union.

Alert level expected to rise

Officials signalled that France was not raising its alert level for responding to an epidemic for the time being, but wider restrictions are most likely to come.

“The coming weeks will be difficult,” Véran said after an emergency meeting with President Emmanuel Macron. “This evening we are still in the ‘second stage’, meaning that our priority is to do everything to slow the spread of the virus in our national territory.”

But Macron has said it was “unavoidable” that France will also close schools and suspend public transport services as it transitions to a third stage of alert, at which point restrictions are not meant to contain the spread of a disease but to minimise its impact.

“The epidemic has not, at this point, affected the whole country, but it is progressing in a number of areas,” Véran said.

Schools and nurseries will be closed for two weeks starting Monday in the eastern Haut-Rhin and northern Oise departments, France’s two most affected areas. The measures will affect nearly 300,000 pupils, who will have access to distance learning measures.

Véran suggested nationwide municipal elections scheduled for the next two weekends would be maintained.

France worst hit in Europe after Italy

With 19 deaths and 1,126 cases of Covid-19 recorded as of Sunday, France is the second worst affected European country after Italy, where officials have put some 15 million people under quarantine in the northern Lombardy region.

Germany has also encouraged the cancellation of events with more than 1,000 participants.

Paris region health authorities said two new French MPs have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Their identities have not been released.

The new cases bring the total number of infected lawmakers to four, while two employees of the French parliament have also caught the disease.

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