Coronavirus: France facing 'greatest health crisis for a century'

Schools and universities to close as European outbreak continues to grow

This photograph taken on March 12, 2020, shows a close-up of a screen broadcasting the declaration of France's President Emmanuel Macron, made from The Elysee Palace in Paris, about the situation of the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, at the France 24 channel studio in Issy-Les-Moulineaux, on the outskirts of the French capital. / AFP / Ludovic Marin

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday declared coronavirus the "greatest health crisis France has known for a century".

Mr Macron announced new measures to help fight the outbreak in a televised address to the nation.

He pledged to increase the capacity of hospitals and called on elderly people and those with health problems to stay at home for as long as possible to help ease the effect of the virus.

Creches, schools and universities would close from Monday "until further notice", Mr Macron said, urging employers to let staff work from home.

The president announced that local elections to be held on Sunday would not be postponed.

He said that to ease the economic effects, the state would pay salaries of people forced to stop work, and that businesses would not have to pay taxes due in March.

Mr Macron said the latest measures to support the economy unveiled by the European Central Bank were not enough, and that he would work with EU partners on a major package to relaunch the economy, "whatever it costs".

In a veiled reference to US President Donald Trump's decision to suspend some travel to the US, he said nationalism was not the answer to Covid-19.

Mr Macron said the disease had no nationality, and that if national frontiers had to be closed, it would only be when it was essential and in co-ordination with the rest of Europe.

France has already begun to bring in stricter measures to battle the virus, with bans on visits to retirement homes in place.

Culture Minister Franck Riester is among those infected with coronavirus.

Disneyland Paris said earlier that it had stopped outdoor shows and shortened queues for its rides to comply with government limits on mass gatherings.

The amusement park, which has about 15 million visitors each year, said it was temporarily waiving fees for changing or cancelling reservations for its Disney hotels.

"We are in regular contact with the French authorities and based on their direction, we have temporarily amended some experiences and operations through April 15," the company said on its website.

Mr Macron had earlier described the outbreak as "a true world crisis".

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