To fight coronavirus, France urges no more greetings with kisses

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By Nicole Acevedo and The Associated Press  with NBC News World News
Image: France
A couple kiss in front of the Eiffel tower during the New Year's celebrations in Paris, on Jan. 1, 2020.   -   Copyright  Martin Bureau

France announced Saturday that it is banning gatherings of more than 5,000 people in confined spaces and recommending that people stop greeting each other with kisses.

The announcement comes as the French government ramps up its efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus after the country reported 16 new cases.

A half-marathon in Paris that was scheduled for Sunday as well as an annual agricultural fair have been canceled. Municipal elections scheduled for March 15 are expected to take place as planned.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran had previously recommended people avoid shaking hands to slow the spread of the virus. But now, he said he is also recommending people to also cut back on "la bise," the custom in France and some others parts of Europe of giving greetings with kisses, or air kisses, on the cheeks.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country rose to 73, including 59 hospitalized patients, 12 recovered patients and two deaths. No new deaths have been reported as of Saturday afternoon, said Verán.