'We're just at beginning of this epidemic' - French president on coronavirus

French President Emmanuel Macron warned Tuesday that France was "just at the beginning" of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 33 people in the country and infected 1,784 according to the latest official data.

"We're just at the beginning of this epidemic," Macron said after a visit to the ambulance service in Paris, urging the French not to panic and saying the authorities were "organised" in the face of the crisis.

France is the second-worst affected country in Europe after Italy, and 372 new cases emerged between Monday and Tuesday for the highest 24-hour rise to date, the health ministry said, with 86 people listed in critical condition.

France's Culture Minister Franck Riester and five MPs are among those who have tested positive for the virus.

Preventative measures

Preventive measures have been stepped up at the presidential palace, with Macron's cabinet chief ordered to work from home after having been in contact with an infected person.

But with only a fraction of the 631 deaths reported in Italy, France has so far refrained from the draconian measures imposed by its neighbour, which is under nationwide lockdown.

READ MORE | Italy on lockdown amid coronavirus fears

Clusters of cases have been identified in half a dozen French regions, with schools closed in three - the northern Oise area, the northeastern Haut-Rhin area and the city of Ajaccio on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

Three positive cases for the virus emerged Tuesday at a trio of nuclear power plants, two in northeastern and one in central France, a spokesman for operator EDF said, while adding that operations were not affected.

Employees who have come into contact with them in recent days were sent home to self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution in line with a pandemic contingency plan first introduced two decades ago and then updated for the H1N1 swine flu and SARS outbreaks.

Large gatherings cancelled

Gatherings of more than 1,000 people have been cancelled since the weekend, leading to several sporting events and concerts being called off.

Macron said the government, which is pressing ahead with nationwide municipal elections scheduled on Sunday, was taking a region-by-region approach to the outbreak.

"One must not expect that at a given moment, at a given hour in the country, there will be a big shift when everything changes," he said, adding the government would continue to adopt a "proportional" response to the epidemic.

Riester, who is in self-confinement at home a day after being diagnosed with the virus, wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday he was "doing well".

Health Minister Olivier Veran meanwhile attempted to convince the French to turn out and vote for mayors and councillors on Sunday.

A visit to the polling station is "no more dangerous" than a trip to the supermarket, he argued.

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