Palace of versailles

The Louvre and the Palace of Versailles in France closed by coronavirus

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The Louvre in Paris, the most visited museum in the world, said on Friday it was closing “until further notice” because of the coronavirus.

The closure of the museum, which had 9.6 million visitors last year, came after the French government banned all gatherings of more than 100 people to limit the spread of the virus.

The Palace of Versailles – France’s other big tourist attraction with almost 10 million tourists a year – quickly followed suit.

The Louvre had restricted entry to 1,000 people at a time on Monday as the number of cases in France began to rise.

In a sign that the closure could be relatively long, the museum announced that it was also postponing two upcoming exhibitions, including an exhibition on Italian sculpture from Donatello to Michelangelo which was not due to open until May.

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris, which holds the largest collection of Impressionist paintings in the world, is expected to follow the Louvre’s lead later on Friday.

A series of other museums said they were also closing after France’s culture ministry ordered public institutions to close or severely restrict entry on Friday.

Public theatres, libraries and concert halls have also been told to close.

French Culture Franck Riester is quarantined at his home after testing positive for the virus earlier this week.

– Fears of prolonged shutdown –

The prospect of a long shutdown has left theaters and concert halls in Paris facing a financial abyss.

The entertainment industry across France – but particularly in the capital – had already been reeling from a six-week transport strike over pension reform earlier this year, which left the Paris Opera alone facing losses of 16.4 million euros ($18 million).

Impressario Jean-Marc Dumontet, owner of several Parisian theaters, told AFP the closure was a devastating double whammy.

“Some of my staff are in tears,” he said. “It’s a knockout blow. Projects have to be scrapped,” adding that all shows that will open by August are under threat.

“It’s extremely sad and really shocking.”

The Paris Opera has withdrawn 34 operas, ballets and concerts from its two opera houses in the French capital, with only performances after April 24 still to take place for now.

All rehearsals have also been cancelled.

“We still have enough money to meet our obligations,” said the opera’s CEO Martin Ajdari, but he warned that “everything after this difficult period will be complicated”.

The Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay had limited access to the two museums to 1,000 people earlier this week, with the Louvre requiring visitors to book online.

But with France’s death toll reaching 61 on Friday and the government closing schools and nurseries, museums have been forced to take a more drastic approach.

The Louvre closed for two days last week when staff refused to work for health reasons.