France bans large gatherings, discourages “air kisses”

PHOTO: Tourists, some wearing a mask, queue to enter the Louvre museum Friday in Paris - Rafael Yaghobzadeh, AP

The number of coronavirus cases in France has nearly doubled and currently stands at 100, of whom 86 are hospitalised, two have died and 12 have recovered, according Jerome Salomon, the head of France’s national health service. To fight the spread of the virus, France is banning all indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000, and discouraging the public from exchanging greetings with the traditional kisses.

The ban on large gatherings in confined spaces was announced yesterday by Health Minister Olivier Véran after urgent government meetings on responses to the epidemic.

After previously recommending that people avoid shaking hands, Véran said the public should also cut back on “la bise,” the custom in France and much of Europe of giving greetings with kisses, or “air kisses,” on the cheeks.

The restrictions on public gatherings had an immediate effect: a major four day trade show in Cannes for property investors scheduled for was postponed until June. A half-marathon that was scheduled for today in Paris also was cancelled, as was a carnival in the Alpine town of Annecy.

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Véran says other outdoor events and gatherings that might lead to a mixing of people from infected areas could also be canceled. Public gatherings are being banned entirely in the Oise region north of Paris, which has seen a cluster of cases, and in a town in the foothills of the Alps that has also seen infections.

The virus outbreak also impacted the Paris fashion industry and the city’s Catholic churches. French designer Agnès b. announced the cancellation of her Paris Fashion Week show, originally scheduled for tomorrow, “in view of the current international health context.”

The archbishop of Paris asked priests to change the way they administer communion to avoid spreading the virus. Bishop Michel Aupetit instructed that priests should no longer put the sacramental bread in the mouths of the faithful and instead place it in their hands. He instructed worshipers not to drink wine from a shared chalice or shake hands at mass, and requested that church fonts be emptied of holy water.

The bishop’s instructions were listed in a statement yesterday from the Paris diocese that said a Paris priest tested positive for the virus Friday after returning from Italy.

SOURCE: Associated Press

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