PARIS — As officials across the globe scramble to contain the spread of coronavirus, French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday ordered the closure of schools and universities throughout the country starting Monday and urged businesses to allow employees to work remotely when possible.

“We’re only at the beginning of this epidemic. Everywhere in Europe, it’s accelerating, it’s intensifying,” the French president said in a televised speech late Thursday. The country counted around 2,300 cases COVID-19 Thursday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Calling it the worst health crisis France has seen in a century, Macron said the government would take exceptional measures to address mounting economic fears like offering partial unemployment benefits on a widespread scale.

“Everything will be put into place to protect our employees and our companies, whatever it costs,”  he said.

The government is also preparing economic stimulus measures, both on a national and European level, and Europe plans to move swiftly, he added.

“We, Europeans, will not allow a financial and economic crisis to spread. We will act strongly and quickly,” he pledged.

“I don’t know how financial markets will react in the coming days, but I will be just as clear. Europe will act in an organized manner, and massively, to protect its economy,” he said.

Expressing hopes for coordinated moves by the Group of Seven industrialized nations and G20 powers, the French president said he plans to speak with President Donald Trump, who currently heads the G7, to propose initiatives. 

“Division will not allow us to respond to what is today a worldwide crisis, but rather our capacity to collectively see clearly, early on, and act together,” Macron said. 

On a domestic level, Macron plans to allow companies to postpone payments of taxes and social charges, normally due in March, without penalty.

“We will defend businesses of all sizes, we will defend workers,” he said. 

Local French elections, meanwhile, will take place as scheduled on Sunday.

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