The coronavirus epidemic shut down the Louvre Museum in Paris yesterday as workers who guard its art said they were fearful of being contaminated by the flow of visitors from around the world.
"We are very worried because we have visitors from everywhere," said Andre Sacristin, a Louvre employee and union representative.
"The risk is very, very, very great."
There are no known virus infections among the museum's 2,300 workers, but "it's only a question of time", he said.
A short statement from the Louvre said a staff meeting about virus prevention efforts had stopped the museum from opening as scheduled yesterday.
Yesterday afternoon would-be visitors were still queuing to get inside.
The shutdown followed a government decision on Saturday to ban indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people.
Mr Sacristin said that the new measure exacerbated the fears of Louvre workers that they might be in danger of contamination, because the museum welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each day.
Also worrying staff is the fact that museum workers from northern Italy are now visiting the Louvre.
They have come to collect works by Leonardo da Vinci which were loaned for a major exhibition, he said.
A meeting about virus prevention is scheduled for today between union representatives and the museum management, said Mr Sacristin.
He said museum visitors should be subjected to health checks to protect staff and that if cases of coronavirus contamination are confirmed "then the museum should be closed".
Workers have asked for masks to be distributed but so far have been given only an alcohol-based solution to disinfect their hands, he said.
"That didn't please us at all," he said.
Louvre workers first held their own meeting yesterday morning and then demanded talks with the famous museum's management, he said, and some staff were refusing to work because they fear contamination.