Virus Spreads to Over 60 Countries; France Closes the Louvre

March 2, 2020 Updated: March 2, 2020

PARIS—COVID-19 cases surged in Italy, and France closed the world-famous Louvre Museum on March 1 as the deadly outbreak that began in China sent fear rising across Western Europe, threatening its tourism industry.

The number of countries hit by the virus climbed past 60, and the death toll worldwide reached at least 3,000.

New fronts in the outbreak opened rapidly over the weekend, deepening the sense of crisis that has already sent financial markets plummeting, emptied the streets in many cities, and rewritten the routines of millions of people. More than 88,000 worldwide have been infected, with the virus appearing on every continent but Antarctica.

Australia and Thailand reported their first deaths on March 1, while the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic recorded their first infections.

Italian authorities announced that the number of people infected in the country soared 50 percent to 1,694 in just 24 hours, and five more people had died, bringing the death toll there to 34. France raised its number of reported cases to 130, an increase of 30 from the day before, and said it has seen two deaths from the virus.

The U.S. government advised Americans against traveling to the two northern Italian regions hit hardest, including the Milan area, and Delta Air Lines suspended its daily flight between New York and Milan.

The travel restrictions against Italy and the rising alarm in France could deal a heavy blow to the countries’ tourism industries. Spring, especially Easter, is a hugely popular time for schoolchildren to visit France and Italy.

Iran, Iraq, and South Korea, among other places, also saw the number of infections rise. Cases in the U.S. climbed to at least 74 with the first death inside the United States reported on Feb. 29—a man in his 50s in Washington state who had underlying health problems but hadn’t traveled to any affected areas.

Panic-buying of daily necessities emerged in Japan, where professional baseball teams have played spring-training games in deserted stadiums. Tourist sites across Asia, Europe, and the Mideast were deserted. Islam’s holiest sites have been closed to foreign pilgrims. And governments have closed schools and banned big gatherings.

In France, the archbishop of Paris told parish priests to put the Communion bread in worshippers’ hands, not in their mouths. French officials advised people to forgo the customary kisses on the cheek upon greeting others. And the Louvre closed after workers who guard the “Mona Lisa” and the rest of its priceless artworks expressed fear of being contaminated by the stream of visitors from around the world.

The Louvre, the world’s most popular museum, got 9.6 million visitors in 2019, almost three-quarters of them from abroad.

Louvre staffers were also concerned about museum workers from Italy who had come to the museum to collect works by Leonardo da Vinci that were loaned for a major exhibition.

“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.” While there are no known infections among the museum’s 2,300 workers, “it’s only a question of time,” he said.

The shutdown followed a government decision on Feb. 29 to ban indoor public gatherings of more than 5,000 people.

South Korea reported 210 additional cases and two more deaths, raising its totals to 3,736 cases and 20 fatalities. South Korea has the largest number of infections outside China, with most of the cases in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas.

Iran’s death toll climbed to 54, as the number of confirmed cases jumped overnight by more than half, to 978. The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Feb. 29.

Around the world, many cases of the virus have been relatively mild, and some of those infected apparently show no symptoms at all.

Lebanon ‘s health ministry said on Feb. 29 that three new cases of coronavirus had been confirmed, state news agency NNA reported, bringing the total number of cases in the country to seven.

British health authorities said on March. 1 there had been 12 new cases of coronavirus in Britain, bringing the total to 35.

Nigerian authorities on Feb. 28 confirmed the first case of the new coronavirus in sub-Saharan Africa as the outbreak spread to a region with some of the world’s weakest health systems.

By John Leicester & Colleen Barry