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LATEST: Coronavirus death toll in France rises to 48 as 500 new cases are confirmed

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in France rose to 2,281, further restrictions were brought in in an attempt to contain the spread – including stopping all visits to retirement homes and long term care facilities and closing schools in the southern city of Montpellier and on the island of Corsica.

The new total included 500 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours – the largest daily jump France has seen since the outbreak began in the middle of February.

Health minister Olivier Véran added on Wednesday night that 105 people were in hospital in a serious condition.

French Health Director Jérôme Salomon had previously stressed that so far, 98 percent of people diagnosed with coronavirus in France make a full recovery.

France has already enacted restrictions on gatherings of more than 1,000 people and the 10 ‘cluster’ zones where the majority of cases have been diagnosed have strict restrictions on any type of public gathering.

Schools in the Oise and Haut-Rhin département have been closed since Monday, but now the island of Corsica has followed suit as well as 16 communes in the eastern part of Montpellier and the surrounding Hérault département. Initially Corsica did not record any cases, but now has a cluster of cases around the capital Ajaccio.

Areas now considered ‘cluster’ zones are; Mulhouse in the Haut-Rhin département in eastern France, Oise in the north east, Morbihan in Brittany, two areas in Haute-Savoie in the Alps, the entire island of Corsica,the Aude département in southern France, Calvados in Normandy and eastern Montpellier.

A tenth cluster was a tour group that had travelled to Egypt, with 13 people testing positive for the infection.

Health chiefs have saying for some days that a full epidemic is likely, but President Emmanuel Macron, on a visit to the Necker Hospital in Paris on Tuesday, added: “We have anticipated, we are prepared and we have excellent staff.”

The president has announced he will be making a televised announcement to the nation on the subject of coronavirus measures on Thursday evening.

French authorities have been clear since the outbreak first began in Italy that a full epidemic in France is only a matter of time, and have concentrated their efforts on delaying the peak of the spread of the virus.

Macron on Tuesday expressed his gratitude to the “wonderful and courageous” medical services and asked that people continue to “show solidarity” to the most vulnerable in society by following health advice including washing hands and self isolating if necessary.

Five French MPs plus Culture Minister Franck Riester and two staff members at the parliament have also tested positive for coronavirus. The Assemblée Nationale is already on a scheduled break over the period of the municipal elections.

Riester has contracted the novel coronavirus and is staying in his Paris home but is “doing fine”, his office said Monday.

“The minister tested positive today,” after displaying symptoms, the ministry said.

The Assemblée Nationale is already on a scheduled break over the period of the municipal elections.

Health minister Olivier Véran announced on Sunday night that the government would ban all gatherings of more than 1,000 people while it tried to contain the virus.

The ban will have a huge impact on cultural life in France with numerous concert halls and venues across the country having to postpone upcoming concerts.

Previously gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces had been banned, but this edit has now become more stringent.

Véran added that gatherings that are of use to the country could be the exceptions, but that this would be decided on a regional basis.

Public transport is not covered by the ban, nor are demonstrations.

Football matches are to be played behind closed doors and the France v Ireland Six Nations rugby fixture – scheduled for Paris on March 14th – has been postponed until October 31st.

The ‘cluster’ zones where the most cases have been reported have already put in place total bans on gatherings including markets and church services and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced on Friday night that all schools, colleges and nurseries would be closed in the two worst affected départements – Oise and Haut-Rhin.

Three hundred thousand children stayed home on Monday, while the majority of schools in France’s other 94 mainland départements opened as normal.

Eighty-six of the people contaminated by the virus were reported to be in a ‘serious condition’ on Tuesday evening, according to Salomon.

France had already passed a decree that anyone who is following government advice to self isolate, or whose children are unable to go to school because of coronavirus, is entitled to paid sick leave.

Véran told reporters on Sunday that ‘proportionality’ was the key in France’s response and that it was important to remember that some areas of France have only a very few cases.

He reiterated that it is important people follow health advice in order to protect themselves, but also the most vulnerable in society – the elderly or those with serious medical conditions.

This message was echoed by president Emmanuel Macron who said people should “protect the most vulnerable” and stop visiting older people during the outbreak.

Extra precautions have been introduced at the country’s Ehpad retirement homes.

Concerts including performances at the Paris Opéra have been cancelled but Paris’ largest tourist attractions including the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay remain open, albeit with limits in place on the number of visitors.

French president Emmanuel Macron has cancelled his normal schedule to deal with the outbreak (and not, the Elysée Palace rushed to reassure people, because he has coronavirus himself).

Cases in Germany also topped 1,000 over the weekend but Italy is by the far the country in Europe worst affected and a total quarantine has now been put in place for certain northern parts of the country, affecting around 15 million people.

French ministers have warned against all non-essential travel – especially outside the EU – and advised people in France to stop shaking hands and doing la bise (greeting with a kiss on each cheek) in an attempt to control the infection.

Transport minister Elisabeth Borne has previously said that there was “no question of stopping trains from running” because of the virus.

The government has requisitioned the country’s stocks of masks to distribute to health professionals and people self isolating, in a bid to stop people panic buying and creating shortages for those who need them.

Health minister Véran has said “masks are indispensable” in hospitals, but “pointless” for anyone who is not themselves either a health worker or contaminated by the virus.

Fears of catching the virus have sparked a run on masks as well as sanitising hand gel in France, leading some stores and online retailers to hike prices.

The price of hand sanitser was capped last week by government decree a €3 per 100ml.

Header: President Emmanuel Macron visiting the Necker hospital in Paris on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron (C), and French Health and Solidarity Minister Olivier Veran (2nd R), and AP-HP President Martin Hirsch (3rd R) listen to professor Pierre Carli (L), the director of the Necker hospital SAMU-SMUR emergency services, during a visit at the SAMU-SMUR call center at the Necker Hospital on March 10, 2020 in Paris, focused on COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by Ludovic Marin / various sources / AFP)