Louvre museum reopens after 16-week coronavirus shutdown

Some 70 per cent of the Louvre's 9.6 million visitors in 2019 were from overseas. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP, REUTERS) - The Louvre, the world's most visited museum, reopens after its coronavirus closure on Monday (July 6), but with nearly a third of its galleries still shut.

The vast former palace of France's kings has lost more than €40 million (S$62.7 million) in ticket sales during the near-four-month lockdown, and director Jean-Luc Martinez admitted it could have a few more lean years ahead as the world adapts to the virus.

Although most of the museum's most popular draws, like the Mona Lisa and its vast antiquities collection will be accessible, other galleries where social distancing is more difficult will remain closed.

Nor will there be any crowding in front of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece for a selfie, with visitors warned that they will have to stick to standing on well-distanced spots marked on the floor.

To avoid bottlenecks, arrows will guide visitors through the labyrinth of galleries, with doubling back banned, the museum said.

Some 70 per cent of the Louvre's 9.6 million visitors last year were from overseas, and with tourism at a standstill, Mr Martinez told Agence France-Presse that numbers could drop sharply.

"We are losing 80 per cent of our public," he said.

"We are going to be at best 20 to 30 per cent down on last summer - between 4,000 and 10,000 visitors a day," he estimated.

The museum hopes to attract more French visitors to fill the gap as it embarks on a campaign to shake off its elitist image before the Paris Olympics in four years' time.

Mr Martinez, who comes from a working-class background, said he wanted to build on the outreach success of the Louvre's outpost museum in Lens, a poor former mining town in northern France.

He said sometimes the Louvre can "intimidate" certain demographics and the museum needs to reassure people that its collections are also for them, with improved presentation, labelling and curation.

Outside the museum, several dozen tour guides wearing masks and holding Mona Lisa portraits protested for more support from the government to help them ride out the coronavirus crisis and a dearth of tourists.

In May, France announced measures worth €18 billion euros (S$28.2 billion) to support its tourism sector from the damage wrought upon it by the global pandemic.

But protester Margot Schmitz said these funds were not reaching tour guides like her, most of whom were on short-term contracts and were facing imminent financial hardship.

"The government is turning a deaf ear," Ms Schmitz told Reuters ahead of the protest.

"We have no voice." It may be months before foreigner flock back to Paris in pre-crisis numbers.

The Louvre said it was expecting 7,000 visitors on Monday but after an initial flurry managers anticipate that numbers will only be a fifth of pre-outbreak levels - likely making for a more serene experience than usual.

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