In a televised speech to the country on Thursday night, President Emmanuel Macron announced sweeping new measures to try and contain the virus that had contaminated over 2,870 people so far and claimed the lives of 61 people.
“I want to be very clear with you tonight,” the French President said. “We are only at the beginning of the epidemic.”
Follow the latest on the coronavirus situation in France here.
France's priority was to slow down the progression of the epidemic, Macron said before announcing the closure of all education institutions.
“Starting Monday, all nurseries, schools and universities will be closed,” he said, without specifying how long they would be remained closed for.
The president also urged anyone aged over 70, disabled or in poor health to stay at home and limit social contact as much as possible.
“Protecting our most vulnerable is the most important thing right now,” he said.
Macron said he would not postpone the upcoming municipal elections, due to be held on Sunday March 15th and March 22nd.
“There is nothing to suggest the French shouldn't go to the polls,” he said, refuting claims that the elections could not be held because people would abstain from voting out of fear of the virus.
While urging everyone who could to work from home and limit their own movements as much as possible, he said public transport would run as usual.
“But I am calling on all of you to take responsibility,” Macron said. “This crisis must be an occasion to mobilise together, all of us.”
“We need to think ‘we’ instead of ‘I’. That’s why I’m telling you tonight that I am counting on you to respect the advice that the government has given you.”
“I'm counting on all of you to put the nation first.”
“That means washing your hands. It means working from home for those who can, and it means limiting taking public transport as much as possible.”
The president urged all French businesses to let their workers do télétravail, work from home, if possible.
“The state will bear the financial burden of the people who have to stay home,” Macron said, as he announced what he said would be “exceptional measures” to help businesses cope with any financial losses following the new measures.
“We won't add fear of bankruptcy and unemployment to the sanitary crisis,” he said.
The traditional winter truce (trêve hivernal) which prevents landlords from evicting tenants during coldest months, was due to end on March 31st will be extended by two months.
“Division won’t help us in solving this crisis,” Macron said, referring to the the United States’ travel ban on the 26 European countries belonging to the Schengen area.
But he did warn that borders could close but decisions needed to be taken at a European level.
“There will, without doubt, be border measures to take. But we need to take them when they are useful,” he said.
“This virus doesn’t have a passport. We need to stand together, we need to gather forces, we need to cooperate.”
While the European Union's initial show of unity over the pandemic had promised a coordinated effort to save the economy, responses still differ from government to government.
European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde on Thursday slammed “the complacency and slow motion process” of governments in the eurozone area in particular.
Perhaps in response to the ECB's chiding, Macron called for “a national and European stimulus plan”, saying measures announced by the ECB earlier in the day were not enough.