France's Louvre stays shut amid staff fears of virus spread

AP , Monday 2 Mar 2020

Louvre museum
Two men stand in the deserted court yard outside the closed Pyramid, the main entrance to the Louvre museum which was once a royal residence, located in central in Paris on March 2, 2020. (AFP)

Tourists trying to visit the Louvre Museum on Monday are out of luck, as the world's most visited museum stayed closed for a second straight day because of workers' worries about the potential spread of the new virus.

Most of the Paris landmark's 9.6 million visitors last year came from other countries, and the museum that houses the Mona Lisa and other treasures welcomes tens of thousands of people every day.

While unions held meetings with management and the Culture Ministry on Monday, disappointed crowds huddled under umbrellas outside the Louvre's famed pyramid.

By afternoon no compromise had been reached, and the museum remained shuttered.

The French government on Saturday banned any indoor gatherings larger than 5,000 people to prevent the spread of the virus, so on Sunday, Louvre workers said that should apply to their workplace too and blocked the museum from opening.

About 250 Louvre workers, mainly those who guard the treasured artworks or greet visitors, voted Monday to stay off the job until management presents a clearer plan of how it's dealing with the virus threat, said Andre Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative for its staffers.

He acknowledged that there have been no cases traced to the Louvre thus far, but said, ``If tomorrow there is a case at the Louvre, we need to know the plan'' for workers and visitors.

Some workers want masks, or for visitors to undergo temperature checks.

Addressing the frustration of tourists from around the world stuck in the rain, he said, ``We regret this. It's not our wish to close the Louvre. ... What we want to welcome tourists is to have measures that protect them as well as us.``

The museum's managing director, Maxence Langlois-Berthelot, said it's ``keeping a close eye on the situation and is ready to take action as and when necessary.''

He acknowledged the ``legitimate concern'' of the workers, but said the number of visitors in each room of the Louvre is well below 5,000 at any given time, so that doesn't warrant closing the museum.

France has reported 130 cases of the virus, and more than half of the country's regions now have at least one case.

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