Virus Closes Museums, Sports Events — Will Democracy Be Next?

(Associated Press) The new virus is entering new territories, from megacities to seaside villages, and casting a fast-growing shadow over the world economy. Here’s a look at some of the latest developments:


The Louvre is a magnet for tens of thousands of visitors every day from around the planet — and workers fear it’s a potential magnet for the new virus. So they voted to keep the world’s most-visited museum closed Monday for the second day running, and they’re holding a string of meetings with management to find a solution. Frustrated tourists stood outside in line for hours, and now have to find another way to spend a rainy Monday in the French capital. Workers who guard Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and other treasures of world art want masks or health checks for visitors.


Fear of the coronavirus is changing habits in Germany, where it’s common for people to shake hands at every meeting. Arriving for a meeting with migrant groups Monday morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was rebuffed by her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, when she stretched out her hand to greet him. France’s government is telling people to scale back on handshakes – and even on the ubiquitous cheek kiss. In Italy, Europe’s epicentre of the virus, authorities are conflicted about curtailing a cheek-kissing ritual that’s rooted in Italy’s Mediterranean culture as well as its strong family and social structure.


From soccer to cycling and horse races, sports events around the world are being canceled or delayed by the virus. The latest possible victim: Japanese baseball. The season opening is now in doubt because the Japanese baseball and soccer leagues tapped three medical experts as advisers. Preseason games are being played in empty stadiums, and whether to hold the March 20 opening as scheduled is a delicate decision. And the big worry is the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to open on July 24. An Irish bookmaker is already taking bets on whether it goes ahead.


Democracy, too, is being disrupted by the virus. As Israelis vote Monday to decide the fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, authorities had to set up 15 special balloting stations for hundreds of Israelis who have been ordered to remain in home-quarantine after possible exposure to the virus. Fears of virus spreading may hinder turnout, already threatened by voter fatigue as they face their third election in less than a year. And in France, two mayors have come down with the virus as campaigning heats up for nationwide municipal elections this month.


Remember those temporary hospitals China set up in Wuhan? The biggest one may wrap up operations by the end of the month. That’s according to the director of the hospital, set up in an exhibition center in the Chinese city that’s been the epicenter of the virus. Dr. Zhang Junjian told The Associated Press that the workload for its staff of 1,260 remains heavy, but they could discharge all patients by the end of March and complete its “historical mission.”