Louvre Museum prepares to reopen, minus the Mona Lisa melee

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s Louvre Museum is getting ready to reopen almost four months after COVID-19 forced it to close, but visitors will find one feature missing: the heaving crowd jostling to get a view of the “Mona Lisa”.

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With many foreign tourists not expected back for months, and strict social distancing measures in place, the post-outbreak Louvre that opens on July 6 is likely to be a more serene experience than usual.

Workers this week were putting the final touches on preparations at the former palace on the banks of the Seine that, according to managers, is the world’s most visited museum.

There will be disinfecting hand gel dispensers, a booking system that allocates time slots to visitors, a one-way system, as well as signs reminding visitors to keep one metre (yard) apart and wear masks.

And managers anticipate that initial visitor numbers will be only a fifth of pre-outbreak levels.

The museum’s director Jean-Luc Martinez said its sheer size - 45,000 square metres of galleries containing 30,000 works will reopen - means it will not be hard to respect physical distancing.

“It’s not somewhere where you’re going to be crushed up against each other,” he said.

Before the outbreak, the Louvre had around 1 million visitors each month in the summer season. Three quarters of them were foreign tourists.

Many visitors traditionally made a beeline for Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”, often resulting in a crowd several people deep in front of it.

Martinez said the COVID-19 lockdown had cost about 40 million euros ($45 million) in lost ticket office revenue, cancelled events and shop sales.

He said the Louvre would weather the storm, although it was likely to need two or three years to get back to normal.

“This palace is more than 800 years old, the museum has been open for more than 200 years. Of course this crisis is an unusual moment, but the Louvre will remain,” he said.

Reporting by Johnny Cotton, Noemie Olive and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Johnny Cotton and Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood