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'We are only at the beginning' of the coronavirus epidemic, Macron says

French President Emmanuel Macron, French Health Minister Olivier Véran (2nd from right) and others listen to professor Pierre Carli (at left), the director of Necker hospital’s SAMU-SMUR emergency services, during a visit to the hospital on March 10, 2020.
French President Emmanuel Macron, French Health Minister Olivier Véran (2nd from right) and others listen to professor Pierre Carli (at left), the director of Necker hospital’s SAMU-SMUR emergency services, during a visit to the hospital on March 10, 2020. © Ludovic Marin, AFP/POOL

French President Emmanuel Macron warned Tuesday that France was "only at the beginning" of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 30 people in the country and infected 1,606. 

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"We are only at the beginning of this epidemic," Macron said after a surprise visit to the SAMU ambulance service at Necker hospital in Paris, while urging the public not to panic and saying the authorities were well organised to face the crisis.

France is the second-worst-affected country in Europe after Italy – which has effectively gone into lockdown to stop the spread of the virus – and Culture Minister Franck Riester and five MPs are among those who have tested positive. 

Preventive measures have also been stepped up at the Élysée presidential palace, with Macron's cabinet chief ordered to work from home after having been in contact with an infected person.

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But with only a fraction of the 463 deaths reported by Italy, France has thus far refrained from taking the draconian measures ordered by the Italian state.

Clusters of cases have been identified in half a dozen French regions, with schools closed in three – the northern Oise area, the northeastern Haut-Rhin area and the city of Ajaccio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

>> Read more: Fear, hoarding and Gallic shrugs as French brace for coronavirus

Gatherings of more than 1,000 people have been prohibited since the weekend, leading to museum closures – including the Louvre – and several sporting events and concerts being called off. Madonna's Paris concerts this week as part of her "Madame X" tour were among those cancelled. 

Macron said France was taking a region-by-region approach to the outbreak. 

"One must not expect that at a given moment, at a given hour in the country, there will be a big shift when everything changes," he said, adding that the government would continue to adopt a "proportional" response to the epidemic.

France has already unveiled a raft of measures aimed at keeping certain businesses afloat as consumers stay at home. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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