France Closes Shops, Restaurants, Tells People to Stay Home

PARIS (Reuters) -
A view shows empty shelves at a Super U supermarket as people began stockpiling food in Paris, as France grapples with an outbreak of coronavirus, March 14. (Reuters/Benoit Tessier)

France will shut most shops, restaurants and entertainment facilities from midnight on Saturday and people should stay home as much as possible as the spread of coronavirus is accelerating, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced.

He was speaking at a news conference after the public health authority said 91 people had died in France and almost 4,500 were now infected.

“I have decided to close all non-indispensable locations, notably cafes, restaurants […] and shops,” he said. “We must absolutely limit our movements.”

Exceptions to the shop ban will include food stores, pharmacies and gas stations.

Philippe said the government had been left with no choice because too many people were still out in the streets and not sufficiently applying recently announced measures, including keeping a safe distance from each other.

That, he said, was helping accelerate the spread of the virus.

France has already ordered the closure of schools from Monday and had advised people over the age of 70 to stay home.

Philippe said public transport would remain open, but that the government expected companies to put into place systems for people to work from home beginning on Monday.

However, he said local elections on Sunday would go ahead under strict sanitary conditions.

President Emmanuel Macron decided last week to go ahead with the elections, saying it was vital the democratic system continue to function, despite some criticism and concern over the possibility of people being infected at polling stations.

Jerome Salomon, the head of the French public health authority, said there had been a rapid increase in serious cases, including 300 people in intensive care, half of whom were below 60 years of age.

“To date, there has not been enough awareness by French women and men of the importance of their role in the face of the virus. It is urgent. Now is the time to change our behavior,” he said.

“We must now do everything to delay, to slow down, to clip the curve of this epidemic.”

The government wants to avoid a situation where hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of serious cases. Neighboring Italy’s health system has been severely strained by the coronavirus outbreak there.

“I am conscious of the efforts and sacrifices that we are asking, but I have faith that the French people will have the capacity to understand the seriousness of this moment,” Philippe said.