France bans large public gatherings to slow coronavirus spread

France is banning all indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people to slow the spread of a coronavirus epidemic.

The cancellation of large gatherings in confined spaces was announced by Health Minister Olivier Véran after special government meetings Saturday.

 Across the country, "all gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces will be cancelled," the health minister said. The same goes for events "in an open environment where people can mix with others from areas where the virus is possibly circulating".

Having previously recommended that people avoid shaking hands, the minister said they should also cut back on “la bise,” the custom in France and elsewhere in Europe of giving greetings with kisses, or air kisses, on the cheeks.

The tightened restrictions on public gatherings had an immediate impact. A major four-day trade show in Cannes for property investors was postponed from March to June.

Accordingly, the Paris half-marathon scheduled for Sunday will not take place, although Ligue 1 football matches will still go ahead.

"These measures are provisional and we will undoubtedly have to modify them over time," Véran continued. "They are restrictive measures and we hope that they last for some time because that would allow us to contain the spread of the virus."

Public gatherings are being banned completely in the Oise region north of Paris that has seen a cluster of cases, and in a town in the Alps that has also seen infections, he said. People can "do their shopping" but must avoid "unnecessary travel" and "work from home if possible", Véran continued.

Véran said there were 16 new cases of coronavirus in France, taking to 73 the number of people affected since the end of January. Two people have died, a 60-year-old French teacher and an 80-year-old Chinese tourist.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)