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

PARIS (AP) — Tourists trying to visit the Louvre Museum on Monday were 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.

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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.

The Louvre staff aren’t alone in their concern. Paris subway workers are among others who have raised safety questions, and the French transport minister held a special meeting Monday to try to calm them down. She said there was no reason to stop trains from running because of the virus.

Meanwhile, union representatives at the Chateau of Versailles held a meeting with management Monday and will hold another meeting Tuesday to decide whether to reopen to the public.

France reported 191 cases of the virus Monday, a jump of 47% from the day before. Three people have died, and nearly all of the country’s regions now have at least one case.

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