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Why COVID-19 is putting the rescue of Notre Dame at risk

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A man in a mask walks past Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris
A man in a mask walks past Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris   -   Copyright  AP
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The rescue of Notre Dame Cathedral, which was almost destroyed in a fire one year ago, is at risk due to the coronavirus lockdown in France.

Work to remove 40,000 bars of scaffolding, which had been put up prior to the fire for a renovation project, has been halted as part of the confinement measures that began on March 17 to contain the spread of the virus.

The cathedral risks becoming another victim of COVID-19, as the scaffolding, some of which was melted in the fire, needs to be removed to avoid further damage to the building.

The fire gutted the interior and toppled the cathedral's iconic spire on 15 April last year.
Our International correspondent, Anelise Borges spoke to Rodolphe Néron, a volunteer firefighter who was one of the first to respond.

More than a billion euros were pledged for its reconstruction, with French president Emmanuel Macron setting a target of reopening its doors in time for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

But with plans to remove the scaffolding bars in a precision operation halted by the virus, the building is at risk of further damage.

"As long as we have this scaffolding around, there's still sort of a 50% chance that more damage can be brought to the cathedral," said Notre Dame chaplain Brice de Malherbe, who was evacuated by police from his home next to the cathedral as flames engulfed its roof.

A small Good Friday ceremony was held last week at the foot of the huge golden cross that remains intact.

But setbacks have delayed the progress of the restoration, from the discovery of toxic dust in the melted lead roof and spire to the coronavirus lockdown.

And, once the scaffolding is down, stones must be analyzed to see which need replaced, logs and debris cleared from the vaults then an umbrella structure mounted to protect the site, according to Malherbe.

The "Great bumblebee" (Gros Bourdon), the second biggest bell in France hanging in the cathedral's southern tower will ring out at 8 p.m. on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the devastating fire.