France reports biggest jump in coronavirus deaths, says ready to spend tens of billions to help firms

People wearing face masks use hand sanitiser outside the Louvre museum in Paris, on March 15, 2020. PHOTO: NYTIMES

PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) - France recorded 29 additional coronavirus deaths Sunday (March 15), the biggest one-day increase in the country since the outbreak, bringing the total death toll to 120, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

Around 900 more infections were recorded in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 5,400 since January, Veran told France 2 television.

Separately, the national health agency Sante Publique France, which has been updating its tally daily, put the new toll at 127 deaths.

The sharp increase came as France held the first round of nationwide municipal elections Sunday, expected to show a record abstention rate as virus fears kept many people from polling stations.

Veran said government officials would meet with scientific advisers in the coming days to determine if the second round of voting will be held next Sunday.

"Probably on Tuesday I will ask them about the second round," Veran said, while refusing to be drawn on rumours the government will soon announce a complete lockdown and confine people to their homes.

"You hear all kinds of things, but if someone is going to sign such an order, I'll know about it," he said.

Meanwhile, France said it is ready to spend tens of billions of euros to help companies get through the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday.

"There will be all the money that is necessary. The state will be completely behind them," Bruno Le Maire told France 2 television. "The economic actors are in complete distress."

"The state will help everyone get through these difficult times and it will cost tens of billions of euros."

Paris has already launched measures to help firms ranging from deferring tax payments and payroll charges, compensating companies who put workers on reduced schedules and offering loan guarantees through the public investment bank Bpifrance.

Le Maire said the government would do what is necessary to ensure that banks provide loans to companies that need it and on Monday would announce a series of measures to help firms.

Les Echos newspaper said that the government was preparing a plan of 30-40 billion euros to support the economy, which could push the budget deficit above 3% of gross domestic output this year.

A finance ministry official said: "We don't have any idea of the overall amount because we don't know how long it will last."

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