French far-right mayor reopens museums, defying Covid closure

Perpignan (France) (AFP) –


A far-right mayor in France threw down the gauntlet to the central government on Tuesday by reopening his city's museums in defiance of coronavirus rules.

Arguing that the French needed access to culture despite the threat of Covid-19, Perpignan Mayor Louis Aliot, deputy leader of the far-right National Rally, officially reopened four museums that had been closed since October 30.

"There is a virus and it will be with us for a long time... There are treatments, there are vaccinations, there are precautions we can take. Let's get used to it and start by trying things out," Aliot told reporters at the Hyacinthe-Rigaud art museum.

Cultural venues across the country are desperate to reopen -- even partially -- to give the French some enjoyment after months without exhibitions, theatres, cinemas and live entertainment.

The Hyacinthe-Rigaud museum told AFP that roughly 50 visitors had arrived on Tuesday morning within 15 minutes of it reopening.

"There are a lot of people," a receptionist said by telephone.

The Casa Pairal museum of Catalan art and the Natural History Museum also confirmed they had reopened. The fourth -- the Joseph Puig coin museum -- is set to reopen on Wednesday.

President Emmanuel Macron's government, which is trying to bring down stubbornly high infection rates, ruled that all cultural establishments, bars and restaurants should remain closed after the second lockdown ended in mid-December.

On Monday evening, the state's regional representative went to court to try to keep museums in Perpignan closed.

- Hundreds sign petitions -

But with frustration growing at the continued shutdowns, the government has signalled it could soon change tack.

On Monday, Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot promised that museums and national monuments would be the first cultural venues to reopen, but only when infection rates drop.

After talking to 30 museum directors, Bachelot said they had been "very open" to dramatic limits on visitor numbers of one visitor per 10 square metres (110 square feet) compared with one per 4 square metres before the lockdown.

Last week, hundreds within the art community signed two petitions to the government urging it to allow museums open.

"For an hour, a day, a week or a month -- let us reopen our doors, even if we have to shut them again in the case of another lockdown," they appealed.