France's coronavirus death toll close to 50, new restrictions imposed

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s coronavirus death toll rose by almost 50% to 48, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday, adding new restrictions would be implemented to try and contain the outbreak.

Speaking during a news conference in Paris shortly after the World Health Organization called the virus a pandemic for the first time, Veran nonetheless stopped short of raising the emergency response to “Phase 3”, the highest there is.

But he said nurseries and schools would be closed for 15 days in two new areas: Corsica and an urban area around southern town of Montpellier. This type of action is already in force in an area north of Paris and in another in northeastern France.

Veran said the government had decided, for several weeks starting today, to ban visits to all the country’s retirement homes, elderly people being the most exposed to the coronavirus.

The total number of confirmed cases rose to 2,281, Veran said, increase of 497 cases on the tally reported Tuesday at 1800 GMT, when the number of deaths had stood at 33. The minister also said 105 people were in a serious condition.

“Some areas have hundreds of cases, others a few dozen. That means the virus does not circulate widely among the population and so, tonight, we maintain the ‘Phase 2’ level”, Veran said.

French officials have hinted that it is only a matter of time before “Phase 3” is reached. President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to talk about the coronavirus on national television Thursday at 1900 GMT.

If the government lifts its response to “Phase 3”, it means it considers the coronavirus to be circulating widely among the population, requiring extra countermeasures – but it was not immediately clear what those new measures would be.

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