France closes restaurants, bars, cinemas to contain virus, elections to go ahead
French authorities have ordered the closure of restaurants, bars, cinemas and other non-essential services as of Sunday, but said food shops, pharmacies and banks would remain open. This as voting gets underway for local elections.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that the new measures were being adopted after the first measures announced in France to fight the virus were "imperfectly applied".
Places of worship would stay open but all services and ceremonies would have to be postponed, he said.
Public transport would continue to run, but Philippe urged the French to "limit their movements" and avoid inter-city travel.
Top health official Jerome Salomon announced that the death toll from COVID-19 had risen by 12 over the last day in France to 91, with the total number of infected standing at 4,500.
Salomon added that France was from now at its highest sanitary alert level of stage three, which means that the virus is now circulating actively across French territory.
He added that the number of those infected had doubled over the last 72 hours.
Citizens urged to vote
Meanwhile, local nationwide elections will go ahead as planned.
Some 47.7 million people are registered to vote in some 35,000 municipalities.
President Emmanuel Macron, for whom the two-round election is a crucial mid-term test, said Thursday that scientists had assured him "there is nothing to prevent the French, even the most vulnerable, from going to the ballot box", provided everyone observes basic infection-prevention rules.
Officials have insisted that voting will take place under the tightest sanitary conditions, despite widespread fear that polling stations are ideal germ-spreading venues and a particular risk for older people.
Municipalities have announced various measures to try to keep voters infection-free, including regular disinfection of voting booths, ensuring a safe distance between voters waiting in line, and providing sanitising hand gels on entry and exit.
Polling stations will remain open until 1700 GMT, 1800 GMT and 1900 GMT respectively, depending on the municipality, and a second round is scheduled to be held on March 22.