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Louvre stays shut as staff and management discuss coronavirus risks

Visitors outside the Louvre Pyramid on February 28, 2020.
Visitors outside the Louvre Pyramid on February 28, 2020. © Stéphane de Sakutin, AFP

The spreading coronavirus epidemic shut down France's Louvre museum for a second day on Monday, with workers who guard its famous trove of artworks fearful of being contaminated by the museum's flow of tourists from around the world.

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A sign in multiple languages on the museum's main entrance read: "Today the opening of the Louvre is delayed. We will inform you about a potential opening time as soon as possible. Thank you for your understanding."

Several dozen visitors waited in line outside the ticket office, while others gave up and walked off.

Management and staff representatives were holding talks on Monday on the risks associated with the coronavirus. Following a first round of talks, unions said the museum would remain shut all day.

Almost three-quarters of the Louvre's 9.6 million visitors last year came from abroad. The world's most popular museum welcomes tens of thousands of fans daily in Paris.

“We are very worried because we have visitors from everywhere,” André Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative, told the Associated Press on Sunday.

“The risk is very, very, very great," Sacristin said in a phone interview. While there are no known virus infections among the museum's 2,300 workers, “it’s only a question of time,” he said.

The shutdown followed a French government decision Saturday to ban indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

Sacristin said the new measure banning large indoor gatherings exacerbated the fears of Louvre workers that they might be in danger of contamination. Louvre staffers were also concerned about museum workers from northern Italy who had come to the museum to collect works by Leonardo da Vinci that were loaned for a major exhibition, he said.

Italy, with over 1,600 coronavirus cases and 34 deaths, has been the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe.

France raised its number of reported cases to 130 on Sunday, 30 more than the day before. More than half of France's regions now have at least one case, and the new patients include one in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, the first in France's overseas territories. Two people with the virus have died in France, and 12 have recovered, the director of the national health agency Jerome Salomon said Sunday.

Most cases can be traced to growing clusters around the country or to people who traveled to virus-hit areas, but authorities are investigating 23 cases whose origin is not yet clear.

Sacristin, who was taking part in Monday's meeting, said museum visitors should be subjected to health checks to protect staffers and if any cases of coronavirus contamination are confirmed "then the museum should be closed."

Workers have asked for masks to be distributed but so far have been given only an alcohol-based solution to disinfect their hands, he said.

“That didn't please us at all,” he said.

Union representative Christian Galani questioned why the Louvre isn’t covered by the new ban on large indoor gatherings, telling AP, “You will easily admit that the Louvre Museum is a confined space and that it receives more than 5,000 people a day.”

Culture Minister Frank Reister had argued on France-Info radio that Louvre visitors move from room to room, which doesn't present the same risk as a closed concert hall, for example.

Other events to have been cancelled include the French capital’s annual book fair, Livre Paris, which was expected to bring some 160,000 visitors to Paris later this month.

The French capital’s half-marathon was also cancelled on Sunday, though several hundred determined athletes defied the ban.

"We have to stop this paranoia with what's happening. We have to keep things in perspective," a runner who gave her name only as Chloe told Reuters from the starting line.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
 

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