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France’s culture minister tests positive for Covid-19

Franck Riester was due to meet with representatives from the country’s arts and culture spaces about the impact of the coronavirus epidemic, but is now resting at home

French culture minister Franck Riester Photo: ActuaLitté via Flickr

French Culture Minister Franck Riester has tested positive for the coronavirus (Covid-19), official sources revealed Monday night. Riester, who is said to be “feeling well” and “resting safe at home” according to the health minister Olivier Veran, spent several days last week at parliament where five MPs have contracted the virus. He has not met with Emmanuel Macron for days, according to French media reports, however, he did attend a cabinet meeting with French President last Wednesday.

The culture minister was supposed to meet Tuesday with representatives from the cinema and performing arts industries to assess the impact of new measures taken to counter the Covid-19 epidemic, following Sunday’s decision to ban any public gathering of more than 1,000 people. In France, more than 300 concert halls and theaters, including the Opera House, the new Philharmonie de Paris or Le Zénith indoor arena, have 1,000-plus seats. The Salon du Livre, France’s annual showcase event for publishers, which was expecting 160,000 visitors from 20 to 23 March, had already been cancelled along with a rock and roll festival planned a week before on the French-Swiss border.

In order to reduce attendance, the Louvre is now only accepting tourists with pre-booked e-tickets and those entitled to free entrance. Last week, the museum closed for two days when staff expressed safety concerns. It reopened after an agreement was reached to introduce measures such as refusing to handle cash and posting signs requesting visitors to keep a «respectful distance» from staff. Union representatives also demanded that attendance be halved, but this was refused by the museum’s management. Visitors themselves made the final call on that issue, however, by deciding to steer clear of the museum, causing attendance numbers to collapse. On a normal day, 25,000 to 30,000 tourists go to the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa alone. This Monday morning, only a few dozen visitors were seen wandering the room where Leonardo’s portrait hangs. 

A spokesperson for the museum mentioned the absence of most visitors from China (8% of the Louvre’s 10 million visitors in 2018), Italy, the US and France. The Louvre is also asking people who have recently travelled to any locations with widespread cases of the virus to postpone their visits.

Final attendance figures for Monday were not available at the time of writing, but the château de Versailles says that in one week alone in February, it lost 20,000 visitors compared to the same period in 2019, two thirds of them from China. This situation comes after months of social unrest which have badly affected museums and cultural institutions. The Pompidou Center registered a loss of €500,000 in November and December because of transport strikes, while the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum registered an 80% drop in attendance.