Schools to close in two French departments due to coronavirus, says PM Philippe

Nurseries, kindergartens and schools in two departments worst affected by the coronavirus will be closed for two weeks starting Monday, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced Friday as the death toll from the virus rose to nine with 613 confirmed cases in France.

Starting Monday, nurseries, kindergartens and schools in the northern Oise department and the northeastern Haut-Rhin will be closed for 14 days, said Philippe on Friday, following a spike in coronavirus cases.

Philippe noted that while children were more immune to the infection, the measures were being taken to “curb the spread of the virus”.

Despite the new measures, France maintained its coronavirus alert level warning to 2 since the virus was present in some areas and not across the country, explained the PM. 

New restriction on all gatherings except those that are essential have also been put in place in the two departments, he said, continuing that the elderly as well as those in fragile health or with chronic conditions have been urged to stay home as far as possible.

France’s rise in coronavirus infections mirrored a worldwide spike in cases with the World Health Organization (WHO) reporting more than 100,000 infections as the virus wove itself deeper into the daily lives of millions across the globe.

Macron urges limits to visits to elderly

The prime minister’s announcement came hours after President Emmanuel Macron urged the French to limit visits to elderly people, who are most vulnerable to a coronavirus infection.

Macron admitted this could prove "heartbreaking" at times but said the measure was simply one of common sense.

He emphasised that young people should not be visiting the old because "as we know, they (the young) transmit the virus a lot".

Those who died in France so far have been old with pre-existing conditions.

The French president shook up his agenda this week to include a visit to an old age home, where he stressed his government’s commitment to helping those most vulnerable to the disease.

"Our absolute priority is to protect the people who are the most fragile in the face of this virus," Macron said. "The nation is behind our old people.”

EU parliament session moves from Strasbourg to Brussels

Macron’s call came a day after a French lawmaker was hospitalised in intensive care after contracting the COVID-19 infection.

A snack bar worker had also contracted the virus and had been confined to home, while another worker in the lawmakers' dining hall who was suspected of having caught the virus had been hospitalised, the National Assembly said Thursday.

In a sign of the growing concern over the French figures, the EU parliament announced that the venue for next week's session would be switched from Strasbourg in eastern France to the parliament’s second chamber in the Belgian capital, Brussels, which has been closed to the public.

"The situation related to the spread of the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has evolved over the last few days and hours. In particular, new infection clusters have been confirmed and case numbers are rising," Parliament President David Sassoli said in a statement.

"The necessary security conditions are not in place for the usual transfer of the European Parliament to Strasbourg for the plenary session next week," he added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)