A French doctor caring for coronavirus patients has died of the illness, authorities said Sunday, the first such death in the country that is grappling with the mushrooming outbreak.

The 67-year-old emergency room medic worked at Compiegne hospital, north of Paris, the town's mayor told AFP.

Mayor Philippe Marini said that he was "someone who came back to work voluntarily to treat people and knew he was taking a risk."

The doctor was named as Madagascar-born Jean-Jacques Razafindranazy by France 3 television, who said his wife, a family doctor, was also sick with the virus and has been quarantined at home.

His son posted an emotional message on Facebook, describing Razafindranazy as "my father the hero", according to France 3.

"He was passionate about his work and chose not to retire. He has a left a family behind him who will never forget him," he added.

The son thanked those who cared for his father in his final days in hospital in the northern city of Lille, and warned that "this illness is extremely serious and must not be taken lightly".

Health Minister Olivier Veran said earlier that as far as he knew, the man, who died Saturday, was the "first hospital doctor to be hit".

Marini said the doctor "would soon have been 68" and had treated some of the first cases in the Oise department, the first area in France to be badly hit by COVID-19.

He was infected in early March, Marini said.

Veran did not provide further information about the victim, saying details were being withheld for medical reasons and to respect the wishes of the victim's family.

The doctor is thought to be the first French medical professional to die in the epidemic, which has so far claimed 562 lives in France.

A further 6,172 are in hospital, a quarter of them in a serious condition.

Veran said many medical staff who contract the virus could in fact be getting infected outside of their work, while adding that protection for frontline staff was "absolutely indispensable".

France is facing a shortage of protective gear for healthcare professionals in some parts of the country.