France to shut 'non-essential' public places: PM

Paris (AFP) –


France on Saturday drastically stepped up its measures against the spread of the coronavirus, announcing the closure of all non-essential public places including restaurants and cafes from midnight (2300 GMT).

"I have decided on the closure until further notice from midnight of places that receive the public that are non-essential to the life of the country," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told reporters.

"This includes notably cafes, restaurants, cinemas and discos."

Top health official Jerome Salomon meanwhile announced that the death toll from COVID-19 had risen by 12 over the last day in France to 91, with the total number of infected standing at 4,500.

Salomon added that France was from now at its highest sanitary alert level of stage three, which means that the virus is now circulating actively across French territory.

He added that the number of those infected had doubled over the last 72 hours.

Philippe said that the new measures were being adopted after the first measures announced in France to fight the virus were "imperfectly applied".

Places of worship would stay open but all services and ceremonies would have to be postponed, he said.

Shops would also have to close with the exception of essential services like supermarkets and pharmacies, he added.

Public transport would continue to run, but Philippe urged the French to "limit their movements" and avoid inter-city travel.

But he insisted that despite the strict new rules, the first round of local elections would go ahead as planned on Sunday while "respecting strictly the guidelines of distancing".

"I know the French will show their calm, their civic mentality and their ability to obey the rules we have set out for their own security," Philippe said.

Later Saturday, the tiny principality of Monaco, which lies on the Mediterranean coast and borders France, announced similar measures.

Non-essential public spaces would be closed until further notice, said a government statement. Food markets, pharmacies, petrol stations and banks would remain open.