“As of Monday, and until further notice, nurseries, schools, colleges, high schools and universities will be closed,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address on Thursday evening.

This concerns some 62,000 establishments and more than 12 million young people. But a “daycare service will be set up region by region”, so that the nursing staff, “essential to the management of the health crisis, can have their children looked after,” Mr Macron said.

“I ask tonight all people over the age of 70, those who suffer from chronic diseases, respiratory problems, or are disabled, to stay as much as possible at home,” Mr Macron said. “They will of course be able to shop and get some fresh air,” he added.

Public transport will continue to operate, but travel should be limited “to what is strictly necessary.” He also called on companies to increase the use of telework for employees.

France now has more than 2,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus, including 600 new cases on Thursday, with 129 in intensive care and 61 deaths to date.

Medical opinion on the continent is in favour of strong and immediate action to curb the spread of the virus, such as recommended by Antoine Flahault, professor of public health at the University of Geneva. However, the approach favoured by a number of leading experts in the UK is for the virus to be allowed to spread more widely so that the general population builds up resistance to the disease. The outbreak is not expected to peak in the UK for several weeks, but may infect more than half the population before it starts to recede.

PHOTO: TF1 screenshot