Thursday February 29, 2024

Virus brings France to a standstill

March 17, 2020

PARIS: Many streets in French cities were desolate on Monday as schools, cafes and a range of businesses were shuttered on government orders, as President Emmanuel Macron weighed additional measures to contain a fast-escalating coronavirus outbreak.

While many people worked from home to avoid potential germ-spreading encounters or look after their children, others thronged supermarkets to stock up on essentials in case of a prolonged lockdown.

France has shuttered non-essential businesses in a bid to curb the spread of the virus that had infected more than 5,000 in the country by Sunday and killed 127 -- a jump of 900 cases and 36 deaths in 24 hours.

More than 400 people are in hospital in serious condition, causing fears of hospitals being overrun. The country is also limiting long-distance train and plane travel and some domestic public transport. Macron’s office and the government denied widely circulating rumours of an imminent curfew and home confinement for all residents, a step already taken by neighbours Spain and Italy.

Macron, who maintained a first round of nationwide municipal elections that took place Sunday despite widespread contagion fear, was discussing additional measures Monday with senior government officials and leaders of Europe and the rest of the G7 nations, the presidency said. An announcement on EU border control measures would follow "in the coming hours," the Elysee Palace said, ahead of a televised address this evening.

In some stores, face-height screens were concocted with sheets of plastic wrap to shield cashiers from coughing or sneezing, and many pharmacies had put up signs saying they were out of face masks and sanitising hand gel. Some bus drivers, too, took to protecting themselves from contact with passengers, using tape and plastic wrap to shield off their cabins.

Among the few people out and about on the streets of the capital, several wore disposable gloves and masks or simply wrapped a scarf around their faces. At one Parisian pizzeria, a sign announced that delivery was still available, but "the pizzas will be placed outside the door" for collection.

Top health official Jerome Salomon on Monday said the situation was "deteriorating very fast," with the number of cases doubling every three days.