Following a weekly cabinet meeting, M Philippe told reporters: “The public health emergency is today the number one concern [but the epidemic will also trigger] an economic shock, a social shock. We are just at the beginning of the crisis.”
He added putting the economy and society back on track will require “a long-term effort” and will be a challenge “we must all face together.”
He then laid out a string of measures designed to “limit the serious socio-economic damage” caused by the crisis.
His comments came shortly before President Emmanuel Macron pledged “massive investments” in the country’s public hospital health system, under acute strain as it struggles to cope with the flu-like virus which has already infected over 26,000 people and killed more than 1,300 in France.
In eastern France, where the virus has spread rapidly, M Macron said during an impromptu news conference: “Once this crisis is over, a massive investment plan and an upgrade of career paths will be put in place for our hospital system.
He added that he had decided to launch a military operation to help with health and logistics.
The operation, named “Resilience,” will focus on “aiding and supporting the population as well as helping public services face the epidemic in mainland France and overseas”.
The 42-year-old French President, whose government has come under fire for its failure to contain the virus’ spread, also called for national “unity” and slammed those trying to “fracture the country”.
He said: “We should have one obsession: to be united [against the virus].”
M Macron added France was “engaged in a war” against the highly contagious illness.
Hours later, the country’s Armed Forces Ministry said France would “temporarily” withdraw all its troops from Iraq until further notice due to the outbreak.
The ministry said: “France has taken the decision to repatriate until further notice its personnel deployed in Operation Chammal in Iraq.”
The operation involves about 200 soldiers.
The army said it would continue air operations against the Islamic State terrorist group.
France on Thursday entered the tenth day of an unprecedented peacetime lockdown ordered by M Macron to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Like scores of other nations, the centrist administration has imposed a nationwide ban on non-essential movement and closed schools and restaurants in a bid to stop the epidemic.
The government will announce over the coming days for how long the country’s strict lockdown measures are to continue, spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said.
However, a scientific council set up to advise M Macron on the epidemic crisis said on Tuesday the lockdown in place since March 17 should last “at least” six weeks.
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