PARIS - Officials in France are taking drastic steps to curb the coronavirus outbreak that is disrupting businesses, tourism and even churches there.
France reported 1,126 cases on Sunday, making it the second hardest-hit country in Europe after Italy. Retired medics and medical students are being recruited to help deal with growing numbers of infections.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran announced Sunday they are taking stringent measures to try to limit the further spread of the virus.
Veran said, "Our priority is to do everything to slow the circulation of the virus across the country. It is the only way to protect those vulnerable and to mitigate the epidemic on a national scale. As of today, all gatherings of more than 1,000 people are now banned."
Tourism is already suffering, and the new rules will put a damper on other businesses and even churches.
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There are only a handful of Protestant churches in the entire country of France that can boast more than 1,000 members. CBN News visited one of them. It doesn't look much like a church because non-Catholic churches have not been granted permits to build their own sanctuaries in over 100 years. So the congregation of the Paris Christian Center meets in a renovated parking garage. But that hasn't stopped them from growing to several thousand members.
Pastor Dorothée Rajiah, senior pastor at the Paris Christian Center, told us before the announcement that large gatherings would be banned, "Many churches have decided to close their service. So we were wondering what to do and we decided to stay open, and preach the word and preach faith."
But the coronavirus is changing some long-held traditions in the church.
She explained, "We told the people they should not shake hands or even kiss, at least for some time. And we tell them they can wave at people with the hand and say I love you from their heart."
And God blessed their decision to keep the doors open on Sunday. "Today, 15 people got saved, so we are so excited about it!" Pastor Dorothée said.
Now that the government is banning gatherings of 1,000 people or more, The Paris Christian Center will likely be forced to temporarily close next week. But that won't stop them from worshipping.
Pastor Dorothée said, "If the government asks us to shut down our service, we are ready to stream from our website and from YouTube."