France orders non-essential public places to close

France orders non-essential public places to close

A woman wearing a face mask passes by the Eiffel Tower, 14 MarchImage copyright

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The Eiffel Tower is closed

Two of the EU’s biggest states, France and Spain, have followed Italy in announcing emergency restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus.

France, a country of 63.5 million, ordered the closure of all non-essential places used by the public from midnight (23:00 GMT).

Sweeping curbs on citizens’ movements will take effect overnight in Spain, which has a population of 46.7 million.

Spain is the worst-hit country in Europe after Italy.

There are 191 deaths and 6,046 infections in Spain. Italy, which has recorded more than 1,440 deaths, began a nationwide lockdown on Monday.

The US is to extend its European coronavirus travel ban to include the UK and Republic of Ireland. The ban will begin at midnight EST on Monday (04:00 GMT Tuesday), Vice-President Mike Pence announced.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Europe was now the “epicentre” of the pandemic. Its head, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged countries to use aggressive measures, community mobilisation and social distancing to save lives.

How is France shutting down?

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the number of people in France in intensive care was growing and earlier guidelines for the public were being ignored.

The closure applies to restaurants, cafes, cinemas and nightclubs as well as non-essential businesses.

It will not, Mr Philippe said, affect essential businesses which he listed as food shops, chemists, banks, tobacco shops and petrol stations.

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Mr Philippe also asked people to reduce their travel, especially between towns. “The best way to slow down the epidemic”, he said, was “social distancing”.

“I say this gravely – we must all together show greater discipline in the application of these measures,” Mr Philippe added.

Local elections due on Sunday will still go ahead, he said. Religious buildings will remain open but gatherings and ceremonies should be postponed.

Schools in France will be closed as of Monday until further notice.

France reported a sharp rise in cases on Saturday, from 3,661 to 4,499. It recorded 12 more deaths, bringing the toll to 79.

The BBC’s Paris correspondent, Hugh Schofield, says the measures amount to a dramatic ratcheting-up of the French response, reflecting growing alarm at the fast spread of the virus.

How will Spain be affected?

Under a state of emergency, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is banning Spanish citizens from leaving home, except for buying essential supplies and medicines, or for work.

All museums, cultural centres and sports venues will be closed. Restaurants and cafes may only do home deliveries. Essential services like banks and petrol stations will remain open. Schools are already shut across the country.

Mr Sánchez appealed for unity, calling on all regions to put ideological differences aside and put citizens first.

“I want to tell the workers, the self-employed and businesses that the government of Spain is going to do everything in its power to cushion the effects of this crisis,” he said.

The state of emergency will last for two weeks – more if deemed necessary and parliament approves.

The authorities have recorded 1,800 more cases since Friday evening – many in the capital Madrid.

This will be the second state of emergency in the country since the transition to democracy began in 1975, the first being a 2010 air traffic controllers’ strike.

In other developments

  • Germany reported 733 more cases – the national total now stands at 3,795, with eight deaths. Berlin has banned all public and private events with more than 50 participants and forced the closure of all bars, cinemas, clubs, gyms, betting halls and brothels. Similar bans are expected in the western city of Cologne
  • The number of deaths in the UK doubled in 24 hours to 21. Hundreds of scientists have written to the government urging them to introduce tougher measures
  • New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern said almost all new arrivals in the country must self-isolate for 14 days
  • A partial economic shutdown will be in place across Israel from Sunday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said public venues like shopping malls and restaurants will be closed, but supermarkets, banks and other essentials services will continue to operate. Pending approval from the government cabinet, anti-terrorism tracking technology will also be used to locate people who have been in contact with those carrying the virus.
  • In China, new cases among people arriving in the country outnumbered those by local transmission for the first time
  • Colombia closed its border with Venezuela and barred any visitors who recently visited Europe or Asia

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