France is to close all schools, creches and universities from Monday to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, President Emmanuel Macron has said in a televised address. But the first round of municipal elections scheduled for Sunday are to proceed as planned.
Describing the outbreak as France’s biggest public health crisis in a century, Macron urged employers to let staff work from home, and said that the elderly and people with health conditions should stay indoors.
"This epidemic...is the most grave public health crisis that France has known in a century," Macron said in a 20-minute address delivered live on national television on Thursday night.
"Despite the efforts to slow it down, the virus continues to spread and is accelerating."
Unveiling some of the most significant measures to date from a major European country outside of Italy, Macron said the aim was to slow down the disease enough that healthcare services can keep pace with the flow of patients.
"That's our priority. That is why we must continue to gain time," he said.
"From Monday, until further notice, nurseries, schools, middle schools, high schools, universities, will be closed. For a simple reason: Our children and young people, according to our scientists, are the ones that spread the virus the quickest, even if they have no symptoms."
He also urged employers to allow their staff to work from home wherever possible, and said that people over 70 years of age or have existing health conditions should stay inside as much as they can.
Macron said, however, that municipal elections scheduled for this weekend would go ahead, after advice from public health specialists.
On Thursday, the French Health Ministry said the death toll in France from the coronavirus outbreak had risen to 61 from Wednesday's 48.
It added that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in France had also risen to 2,876 from 2,281, with 129 people in very serious, life-threatening condition.
On the economic impact, Macron said a package of measures unveiled by the European Central Bank would not be sufficient. He promised a concerted, bloc-wide response.
"We, Europeans, will not allow a financial and economic crisis to spread. We will react strongly and quickly. Together, European governments must take decisions on supporting activity, and relaunching it, whatever it costs."
He said there would also be coordination among the Group of Seven nations, and that he would speak to U.S. President Donald Trump about that on Friday.
In a veiled reference to Trump's decision to suspend some European travel to the United States, Macron said nationalism was not the answer to the virus.
He said the disease had no nationality, and that if national frontiers had to be closed, it would only be when it was essential and in coordination with the rest of Europe.