French authorities have cancelled the Paris half-marathon, scheduled for Sunday 1 March with 44,000 registered runners, in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus amid a surge of cases in the country.
The announcement came after the French government ordered the cancellation of "gatherings of more than 5,000 people" in enclosed areas and some external events.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran said the cancellations of external events would affect gatherings in open areas where there would be "intermingling with populations from areas affected by the virus".
The final day (Sunday) of the annual agricultural fair in Paris has also been cancelled.
But the weekend programme of French Ligue 1 football matches, are not concerned by the measures, and will go ahead as planned, he said.
Held in open rather than closed stadiums, the weekend games are not taking place in areas of France most affected by the virus: the Oise region north of Paris and La Balme-de-Sillingy village in the southeastern Haute-Savoie region.
The decision to limit large gatherings followed an emergency ministers’ meeting on Saturday, chaired by President Emmanuel Macron, aimed at curbing the outbreak after officials warned the epidemic had reached a "new stage".
Veran said on Saturday there were 16 new cases of coronavirus in France, taking to 73 the number of people affected since the end of January.
59 people are currently hospitalised, 12 have recovered. Two people have died: a 60-year-old French teacher and an 80-year-old Chinese tourist.
Changes to Sunday Mass
The Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, has called on priests and worshippers to take precautionary measures during Mass to contain spread of the virus.
In a communiqué issued on Friday the Paris diocese said a French priest had tested positive for coronavirus following his return from Rome by car in mid-February.
Priests in Paris are therefore called on to offer Holy communion into worshippers’ hands, not directly into the mouth, and not to pass around the chalice from which worshippers symbolically drink the blood of Christ.
The faithful are called on not to shake hands as a sign of peace during religious ceremonies and to refrain from dipping their fingers into holy water.
The search for “patient zero”
Meanwhile the French health authorities continue to search for the so-called “patient zero” who infected the 60-year old French teacher who died from Covid-19 last Tuesday. Unlike most of the infected patients in France, he had had no contact with China or any other infected country.
Investigations are focusing on the Oise region just outside Paris where six cases have been detected at Creil airbase, a transport unit which took part in repatriating French citizens from Wuhan in China, the virus's epicentre.
French health authorities have set up a dedicated cell in the Paris-Ile de France region.
“There are cases of contamination in Paris, and there will be others,” said Aurélien Rousseau, director general of ARS (Regional Health Authority). “But our conviction is that we are, for the moment, capable of identifying them.”
For medical-related advice people in France should call the emergency services on 15. For non-medical questions concerning coronavirus the French government has set up a free “green number” 0 800 130 000.
There are daily updates on its website here.