'We need to be in the sun': Parisians ignore advice to stay home amid coronavirus worries

People sit along the banks of the River Seine in Paris despite government advice to practise social distancing. (AP)

Thousands of Parisians appeared to ignore the French government's advice to maintain safe distances between each other as they came out to bask in the spring sunshine on Sunday.

The day after prime minister Édouard Philippe announced strict measures to limit social interaction, shutting down cafes, bars and restaurants to curb the spread of the coronavirus, people mingled in the capital’s streets and along the banks of the River Seine.

Couples, families with children and groups of friends played on the grass near the Louvre Museum, one of the few green spaces left after parks around Paris closed.

Philippe’s measures were announced after cases of the illness in France doubled in 72 hours, bringing the death toll to 127.

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Schools, creches and universities are closed from Monday, making some students anxious about what to do with the free time.

People enjoy the Seine sunset on Sunday. (AP)

"Our schedules have become completely shattered because we have no more classes and we have two to three weeks added to our school holidays," 19-year-old Anouk Laplace told Reuters news agency.

“How do you make the most out of this time – what do we do with all this time? Do we just stay home? I don't think that's what it means.

People on the banks on the Seine on Sunday. (Reuters)

“I think it's just a break, after all, that's happening to us, and then we go back to doing things, and see what's important to us.”

Images from Sunday show families with young children, teenagers and joggers congregating in their droves in Paris, window shopping and riding bicycles.

“I think for those of us who live in Paris, who don't really have a garden, who don't really have outdoor activities, we need to be in the sun, especially today [when] the weather is great,” said Maia Cochet, also a student.

People enjoy the sun on the Seine riverbanks on Sunday. (Reuters)
Prime minister Édouard Philippe announces sweeping restrictions to try to slow down the spread of coronavirus. (AP)

“We need to keep ourselves busy. And we're taking precautions – washing our hands, not taking public transport too much – and we keep a distance from each other. We're flatmates, so we can still be together. By being careful, we can still live as we like, and enjoy."

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Despite the restrictions, the French government went ahead with the first round of municipal elections on Sunday, but turnout was down compared with local elections in 2014.

"We went and voted, following instructions to keep a distance,” Cochet told Reuters.

“We are however disappointed and shocked that Tuileries park and certainly Luxembourg park are closed today.”

Chairs stacked against the windows of a closed cafe on Sunday in Paris. (Reuters)

President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised address last week that the outbreak is France’s biggest public health crisis in a century.

Macron urged employers to let staff work from home, and said elderly people and those with health conditions should stay indoors.

"This epidemic... is the most grave public health crisis that France has known in a century," he said.

"Despite the efforts to slow it down, the virus continues to spread and is accelerating."