French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron
AFP

President Emmanuel Macron placed France on lockdown from Tuesday and banned the opening of all 'non-essential public places' including cafes, bars and restaurants to fight the spread of coronavirus.

Macron announced measures to "severely restrict movements for the next 15 days at least", starting at midday Tuesday, and limit social contacts as much as possible.

European leaders also plan to ban all non-essential travel into the continent on Tuesday in a bid to stem a pandemic that has killed thousands, upended society and battered economies.

With French President Emmanuel Macron describing the battle against COVID-19 as a "war", governments around the world are scrambling to keep the public safe with measures rarely seen in peacetime, slamming borders shut and forcing citizens to stay home.

The crisis is infecting every sector of the economy, and global stocks have been on a rollercoaster ride, with Wall Street on Monday sinking more than 12 percent in the worst session since the crash of 1987.

After the initial outbreak in a Chinese city in December, Europe has emerged as the epicentre of the virus with more deaths now recorded outside China than inside.

COVID-19 has now killed more than 7,000 people worldwide, including over 2,100 in Italy, the worst-hit country outside China, and more than 180,000 cases have been recorded in 145 countries. In a sombre address to the nation, Macron ordered the French to stay at home for 15 days from midday Tuesday, following similar measures by other European countries.

Most shops, restaurants and tourist sites in the world's most visited country are already shuttered, but in some areas desperate shoppers crowded supermarkets before the new rules took effect.

Meanwhile, Germany will begin repatriating citizens stranded abroad as borders shut and airlines scrap flights because of the coronavirus pandemic, its foreign minister said, as Berlin issued a formal warning against holiday travel abroad.

With European nations already closing their borders, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would ask the leaders of the bloc's Schengen visa-free border zone to stop all non-essential travel into the area.

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