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France orders non-essential public places to close

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

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The Eiffel Tower is closed

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has ordered the closure of all non-essential public locations from midnight (23:00 GMT Saturday) in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The measure applies to restaurants, cafes, cinemas and discos, as well as non-essential businesses.

Mr Philippe also called on French people to reduce their travel, especially between towns.

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.

Spain is poised to declare a 15-day national lockdown on Monday to battle the virus, following similar measures by Italy earlier this week.

And 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.

What does the French shutdown entail?

Mr Philippe said the shutdown would apply until further notice.

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

Local elections due on Sunday would also still go ahead.

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Religious buildings would remain open but gatherings and ceremonies should be postponed.

The prime minister justified the shutdown by saying the spread of the virus in France was accelerating and the number of people needing intensive care support was growing.

He also said too many people were still out in the streets and not following earlier guidelines.

“The best way to slow down the epidemic”, he said, was “social distancing”.

In other developments

  • Germany has reported 733 more cases – the national total now stands at 3,795, with eight deaths. Berlin has banned on 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 on Sunday
  • New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern said almost all new arrivals in the country must self-isolate for 14 days
  • 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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