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Virus brings France to a standstill, Macron mulls further measures

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Paris (AFP)

Many streets in French cities were desolate 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.

- Pizzas placed outside -

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.

"Every French man and woman must ask themselves this morning: 'What can I do today to divide by three or four the number of people I get in contact with?'" he told France Inter radio.

His comments came after TV reports over the weekend showed large gatherings at open-air markets and in parks by people enjoying a sunny day out -- flouting calls to keep a safe personal distance of at least one metre (3.3 feet) as the best means of braking virus spread.

The election, which saw polling staff having to carry out regular disinfection and policing of voters to ensure they stand far enough away from one another, was hit by a record abstention rate.

There have since been calls for the second round this Sunday to be postponed -- which could effectively nullify the entire exercise.

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