France to requisition all face mask stocks, production: Macron

Tourists wearing a protective face mask walk at the Pyramide du louvre area in Paris on Feb 28, 2020.
Tourists wearing a protective face mask walk at the Pyramide du louvre area in Paris on Feb 28, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - French authorities will requisition all face mask stocks and production in the coming months in response to the coronavirus outbreak, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday (March 3).

"We will distribute them to health professionals and to French people infected with the coronavirus," Macron said on Twitter.

Fears of catching the virus have sparked a run on masks as well as sanitising hand gel in France, leading some stores and online retailers to hike prices.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said earlier Tuesday that he had ordered France's consumer and anti-fraud watchdog to open an investigation after reports that prices had doubled or even tripled.

"I'm ready to regulate prices of masks and gels by decree if the abuses are numerous," he said on Twitter.

Macron's announcement came as the health ministry announced a fourth death from the virus, a 92-year-old man in the Morbihan department in Brittany, one of three areas in the country where most cases have been detected.

France has confirmed 204 cases of the virus that emerged in China last December, with 12 of the 13 administrative regions of mainland France registering at least one case each. Only the island of Corsica has been spared so far.

French officials have closed about 120 schools in areas that have reported the largest numbers of coronavirus infections, and more could be shuttered in the coming days, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said.

Authorities have already halted all school trips outside the country, and prohibited any gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces.