Museum staffers feared contamination from the Louvre's many international visitors

By Claudia Harmata
March 04, 2020 03:59 PM
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The famed Louvre Museum reopened on Wednesday after staff members pushed for the heavily-trafficked building to close over coronavirus concerns.

The Paris museum, home of the “Mona Lisa” and one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, was closed on Sunday after staffers expressed fear of contamination from its many visitors.

During the two days it was closed, museum management, its doctor and staff representatives met to discuss possible safety measures that would help employees feel comfortable with being around the over 30,000 daily visitors, according to The New York Times. Some suggestions from the employee union — such as cutting the number of visitors in half — were rejected. Their request for museum-provided gloves and face masks was also turned down, but they agreed to distribute small bottles of hand sanitizer.

The staff will also no longer be required to move around the Salle des États, the area that contains the museum’s most popular painting, the Mona Lisa. Typically, staffers walk around the room to break up crowds and make sure people aren’t pausing in front of the painting for too long.

Louvre museum in Paris
Tourists line up outside of the Louvre

But Christian Galani, the employee union representative, was concerned that the measures, especially in the Salle des États, was not enough.

“The problem is that once the room is full of people, I don’t see how agents could not be exposed to the virus,” he told the Times. “At some point we will probably have to regulate the number of visitors in the room.”

France currently has 285 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, and four people have died.

“We are very worried because we have visitors from everywhere,” Andre Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative, told The Associated Press on Sunday. “The risk is very, very, very great.”

He said that staffers also expressed concern over Italian museum workers who were visiting to collect works by Leonardo da Vinci that were loaned to the Louvre for a special exhibition. Italy has been the hardest-hit country in Europe so far, with over 3,000 cases and 107 deaths as of March 4.

The Louvre hasn’t currently reported any cases of the deadly disease among its 2,300 workers, but Sacristin said “it’s only a question of time.”

The museum is issuing refunds to everyone who purchased an entry ticket ahead of time.

The decision to close down the Louvre came after the French government decided to ban indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people on Saturday in an attempt to contain the virus.

As of Monday, coronavirus has spread to 77 countries with over 95,000 people infected. The global death toll has surpassed 3,000.

Outside of the virus’s epicenter in Wuhan, China, South Korea has reported the second-highest national caseload of 5,621 infected and 35 deaths. It’s followed by Italy with its over 3,000 confirmed cases, while Iran surpassed 2,900, with 92 deaths

Louvre museum in Paris
Credit: Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP/Shutterstock

In the U.S., cases of the deadly disease climbed to 129 on Wednesday, with 11 deaths. All but one of the deaths occurred in Washington state — the latest death came in California, marking the first in the state.

Additionally, health officials in the United States are discovering more cases with unknown origins, meaning those infected did not have any recent history of travel. This is raising concerns that the disease is now spreading through community transmission.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “preliminary information” about the rapidly spreading virus shows that “the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high” to the United States.

To prevent the spread of the virus, the agency urges the public to maintain basic forms of hygiene including careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.