PARIS: On hold since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic in France, repair work at the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which was damaged due to a fire last April, has resumed amid strict health and safety protocol.
The blaze on April 15, 2019 severely destroyed the cathedral's spire and caused extensive damage to the roof, melting its lead plates and spreading contaminating particles on the site, reports efe news.
The first batch of workers who resumed work on Monday were in charge of adapting the changing rooms, office spaces and showers to make it possible to work while observing social-distancing protocol, which has been mandated by the French government.
As well as overalls and masks, the public organization in charge of the restoration efforts is planning to offer hand gel provided by luxury consortium LVMH, cut-price hotel accommodation for those that need it and food provided by heritage group Fondation du Patrimoine and restorers Sodexo.
Chief architect Philippe Villeneuve, who is in charge of stabilization and recovery work at the Notre Dame, met officials on Monday morning to discuss the safety measures in place for the scheduled return of the rest of the builder, scheduled on May 4.
"We can't let our colleagues come back to work without secure conditions," he told the Europe 1 news outlet.
The installation of new changing rooms and showers had already been underway before progress was paralyzed on March 16, when President Emmanuel Macron placed the country in lockdown.
The removal of scaffolding erected around a year ago to restore the charred spire of the cathedral's tower is expected to go ahead within three to four weeks.
Despite the numerous obstacles over the last year, Villeneuve is confident Notre Dame will reopen by 2024, the date proposed by Macron.
Since the fire, only two masses have taken place at the cathedral, both with reduced congregations.
"It gives us hope to know work is underway again," Notre Dame's rector Patrick Chauvet told BFM TV, although he acknowledged that the 150-strong team that had previously been working at the cathedral would no longer be a possibility given the health and safety situation.
France is one of the hardest-hit European nations. It has so far reported 165,964 coronavirus cases, with 23,327 deaths.