By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said a coronavirus epidemic was inevitable in France as his government and others worldwide bolstered measures to fight the spread of infection.
Macron visited a Paris hospital where a 60-year-old Frenchman this week became the second person to die from the coronavirus in France, and sought to reassure a medical profession angry over healthcare spending that it had his support.
“We have a crisis before us. An epidemic is on its way,” Macron, dressed in a suit and without any protective gear, told a group of doctors.
The coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 people and killed nearly 2,800, the majority in China. Its rapid spread elsewhere in recent days has met the definition for a pandemic.
France is on high alert after neighboring Italy became a new front in the global fight to contain the outbreak. France has registered 18 confirmed cases.
The French government has instructed anyone returning from China, Singapore, South Korea or the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto to take their temperature twice a day, wear a mask and avoid all contact with weak and elderly people for 14 days.
School children who have traveled to those zones have been told to stay at home for two weeks.
Macron’s visit to the Pitie-Salpetriere Hospital was kept secret in advance. One doctor confronted Macron, saying the coronavirus underlined the need to shore up France’s public health sector with more money.
“When the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral needed saving, many people were emotionally moved,” neurologist François Salachas said. “Now, we must save public hospitals.”
Macron, a former investment banker who became president in 2017, replied that he had inherited a health service neglected by past leaders.
“I am counting on you and you can count on me,” said Macron, whose government announced billions of euros of debt relief for the country’s hospitals and extra cash in November to end doctors’ strikes.
Two people have died from the coronavirus so far in France – an elderly Chinese tourist and the 60-year-old teacher.
“We are only at the beginning,” Macron said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose and Richard Lough; additional reporting by Matthieu Protard; Editing by Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)