PARIS — As officials across Europe scramble to contain the spread of COVID-19, or coronavirus, France’s Prime Minister Édouard Philippe ordered the closure starting Sunday of all nonessential businesses, like retail shops, restaurants, cafés and cinemas. Meanwhile, government leaders in Spain moved the country to a full lockdown and Germany began to close borders.
The move in France came two days after President Emmanuel Macron announced the closure of schools and universities throughout the country, while museums started to close over the weekend following additional measures banning gatherings of more than 100 people.
“Considering simulations of the progression of the epidemic, I have decided, together with the President, to close all public spaces that are not essential to daily life,” said Philippe, speaking at the French ministry of health in Paris.
More essential businesses — grocery stores, food markets, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, newsagents and tobacco shops — are allowed to remain open, the Prime Minister said. The decision came after France said coronavirus had reached stage 3, meaning the virus is circulating throughout the country.
France counted around 4,500 cases of COVID-19 as of early Saturday, according to French newspaper Le Monde. Following Macron’s speech Thursday, French shoppers had begun clearing out entire aisles in grocery stores in anticipation of further restrictions.
Nevertheless, Philippe insisted that the first round of local French elections, to be held on March 15, will go on as scheduled. In the U.S., which only Friday declared coronavirus a national emergency seven weeks after its first reported case, Democratic primary elections in several states are being postponed.
President Trump said during his announcement of emergency measures and funding that the U.S. “will overcome the threat of the virus.” On Saturday, he revealed that he had been tested for coronavirus and was awaiting the results. The White House later said the test came back negative.
But by Sunday, U.S. officials appeared to also be making more dramatic statements on the virus.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on a number of morning news programs. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said travel bans between America and Europe enacted last week helped to curb transmission, but noted that Americans should expect to “hunker down” “much more” than they currently are in the coming days to avoid a “worst-case scenario.”
Spain, also in a state of emergency, has taken the more drastic measure of ordering a lockdown as it reported more than 1,800 new cases of the virus in the country since Friday, bringing its total to around 6,000. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday ordered that people should only leave their homes for “essential activities.” Those include work, seeking medical care, shopping for food and groceries, visits to the pharmacy and caring for the elderly in need. Schools across the country had already been closed.
“I want to tell the workers, the self-employed and businesses that the government of Spain is going to do everything in its power to cushion the effects of this crisis,” Sánchez said.
On Sunday, Germany started to make bigger moves toward containment. The country’s interior minister said that it would close borders between France, along with Luxembourg, Austria and Denmark in an effort to slow the virus.
Germany, France and Spain are following earlier moves by Italy, which has been on public lockdown since last week and has seen cases of the virus near 25,000 with more than 1,800 related deaths, as of Sunday. Only banks, pharmacies and grocery stores are allowed to operate there.
“We are definitely close to the exhaustion of our resources,” Italy’s Attilio Fontana, regional president of Lomardy, said of recent expansion of lockdown measures. “We are trying to do miracles to respond to the requests of health treatments, but if we don’t do something to invert the increasing number of patients, we will never be able to be as fast as the virus.”
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