France registers two more coronavirus deaths; infections total 577

France has registered two more deaths caused by the coronavirus and 154 new cases of infection, bringing the total numbers to 9 and 577 respectively, announced the Health Ministry on Friday afternoon.

All of the dead are elderly or suffered from other diseases. “Seniors are the most at risk and should be protected,” the ministry said in a statement, reiterating the government’s mobilization to curb the virus spread and lessen its impact on the population during the transition from pre-epidemic stage 2 to stage 3 when “epidemic” is officially declared.

“We are still at stage 2, trying to slow down the COVID-19 epidemic. We will undoubtedly pass to a new stage in next coming days when the virus will be more widely spread in all the regions,” President Emmanuel Macron said early Friday during a visit to a retirement house in Paris.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will chair an interministerial meeting on coronavirus in early evening at the ministry of health, with the attendance of ministers of ecological transition, education, interior and transport, according to the PM office.

Since entering stage 2 on Feb. 28, all gatherings expected to draw 5,000 people in confined spaces as well as certain events in an open environment have been banned across the country. Some 150 schools were shut down.

Local authorities especially of heavily affected regions have ordered bans of other gatherings and closure of more institutions based on their assessment of local situation.

Under the country’s epidemic plan adopted in 2011, stage 3 marks the end of the individual monitoring of cases by health watch institute. More closure and stricter restriction of collective activities might be implemented.