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Coronavirus: France to requisition face masks for use by health professionals, those infected

An employee packs protective face masks on an assembly line at the Valmy manufacturing plant in Mably, central France, on February 28, 2020, amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
An employee packs protective face masks on an assembly line at the Valmy manufacturing plant in Mably, central France, on February 28, 2020, amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. © Philippe Desmazes, AFP

French authorities will requisition all face mask stocks and production in the coming months, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday, reserving them for use by those infected with the coronavirus and those working in the healthcare industry.

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"We will distribute them to health professionals and to French people infected with the coronavirus," Macron said on Twitter.

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.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said earlier Tuesday that he had ordered France's consumer and anti-fraud watchdog to open an investigation after reports that prices had doubled or even tripled.

"I'm ready to regulate prices of masks and gels by decree if the abuses are numerous," he said on Twitter.

Macron's announcement came as the health ministry announced a fourth death from the virus, a 92-year-old man in the Morbihan department in Brittany, one of three areas in the country where most cases have been detected.

France has confirmed 204 cases of the virus that emerged in China last December, with 11 of the 13 administrative regions of mainland France registering at least one case each. 

Contagion fears have led to shortages of sanitising hand gels and face masks, with suppliers racing to replenish stocks even though much of the production is in China, where authorities have closed thousands of factories after the coronavirus emerged there in December.

Demand for thermometers has also soared, with one French producer, STIL, relaunching production at its factory south of Paris for the first time in 15 years after having moved manufacturing to Chinese partners.

School closures

French officials have closed about 120 schools in areas that have reported the largest numbers of coronavirus infections, and more could be shuttered in the coming days, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said.

Authorities have already halted all school trips outside the country and prohibited any gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces.

Both primary and secondary schools have been shut in the Oise department north of Paris, where the main cluster of French cases has emerged, and where two people who have died of the virus lived.

President Emmanuel Macron has called off several events this week as France scrambles to contain the outbreak.

The coronavirus epidemic shut down the Louvre museum for a second day on Monday, with workers who guard its famous trove of artworks fearful of being contaminated by the museum's flow of tourists from around the world.

It was not clear whether the world's busiest museum, which is closed on Tuesdays, would reopen on Wednesday.

Cancelled events include the French capital’s annual book fair, Livre Paris, which was expected to bring some 160,000 visitors to Paris later this month.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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