The coronavirus epidemic in France is “very worrying” and the situation “deteriorating very fast”, the head of the country's health service Jérôme Salomon said on Monday.
“The number of cases double every three days,” Salomon said on France Inter, adding that the number of seriously ill patients and those needing intensive care “runs into hundreds”.
Salomon said every French person had to ask themselves the following,
“How can I, as of today, divide by three or four the number of people I come in contact with,” the health chief said.
“Stay at home, it's as simple as that.”
The message came as the government considered ramping up measures to limit the spread of the epidemic, which was putting a heavy load on the country's already overstretched hospitals.
French media have widely reported that the government would announce confinement measures and curfews for the whole country to come into force on Monday or Tuesday.
On Monday morning government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye described the reports of a curfew as “fake news”.
But she added: “We are examining all the useful measures to get people to change their behaviour.”
Ndiaye added that those measures would be discussed and based on the current outlook of the epidemic.
Santé Publique France reported 127 coronavirus linked deaths on Sunday evening and over 5,400 confirmed cases of the virus.
All French health authorities have however pushed the same message over the past days: the country must slow down the spread of the coronavirus in order to avoid a situation similar to that of its neighbour Italy, where hospitals have been overwhelmed with the number of serious cases over the past weeks.
French media reported this weekend that the government was considering to impose similar mandatory quarantine rules in France as those seen in Italy and Spain.
“We have observed that the first measures we have taken have not been correctly applied,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said this weekend. “The best way to slow the virus is social distancing.”
Philippe said that the advice of most scientists was that the government should step up restrictive measures in a bid to slow down the epidemic.
France already ratcheted up its coronavirus regulations this weekend, ordering the closing of cafes, restaurants, schools and universities – all “non-essential commercial activity” – and limiting long-distance travel “to the strictly necessary.”
All nurseries, schools and universities were closed on Monday and everyone who can have been told to do télétravail (work from home).
The French government will meet with the both the scientific council working specifically to deal with the crisis and the opposition this week to consult on the next steps to stem the spread of the crisis.
Such steps could include enforcing mandatory curfews in some parts of the country for a temporary period of time.
In Italy, authorities have asked everyone to stay inside unless they have an urgent reason to go out, such as work, a medical appointment or to buy food.
All citizens must fill out a standardised form stating their reason for being outside and submit it to authorities if asked.
The punishment for submitting an untrue story in Italy spans from a fine of several hundred euros to criminal charges and up to three months in prison.