French court blocks museum openings in southern France, citing Covid rules

French court blocks museum openings in southern France, citing Covid rules
An employee closes the front door of the Hyacinthe-Rigaud museum in Perpignan, southern France, on February 15th. Photo: AFP
A French court on Monday ordered the mayor of the southern city of Perpignan to shut four museums he opened in protest at the closure of cultural venues due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Louis Aliot, who is also the vice president of the far-right National Rally, reopened the museums last week, saying sufficient precautions could be taken to allow limited numbers to visit safely.

The move, a sign of growing impatience over shutdown measures, was immediately contested in court by the central government and judges agreed that Aliot could not override “on his own” a national decree.

“We regret this decision, which will keep away our fellow citizens who are already suffering immensely during this health crisis,” Aliot tweeted in response. “Culture is a fundamental need that asks only to express itself.”

Cultural venues and artists around the country are desperate to reopen, even partially, as museums, theatres, cinemas and restaurants have been closed since last October.

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Aliot told the hearing Monday in nearby Montpellier that he had opened just four of his city’s 15 or so museums including the Hyacinthe-Rigaud art museum, which had received around 2,000 people since Tuesday.

The government lifted a broader nationwide lockdown in mid-December, but said museums and restaurants must stay closed as authorities try to bring down stubbornly high Covid-19 infection rates.

Early this month, hundreds of artists, museum directors and others in the art community signed two petitions urging the government to allow museums to open.

 “For an hour, a day, a week or a month – let us reopen our doors, even if we have to shut them again in the case of another lockdown,” they wrote.


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