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Amazon closes French warehouses after coronavirus court order

The company has faced questions on health issues on both sides of the Atlantic.

Amazon closed six warehouses in France Wednesday after a court ruled it could ship only essential items, such as food and medicine, until it completed an assessment of how to best protect workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Handing a victory to unions that have argued for more comprehensive coronavirus protections for workers, the French court told the American-based company it had 24 hours to comply before facing a daily fine of nearly $1.1 million.

The warehouses, which employ over 10,000 permanent and interim workers, will remain closed until Monday so Amazon can complete a health and safety assessment.

"The company is forced to suspend all production activities in all of its distribution centers in order to assess the inherent risks in the COVID-19 epidemic and take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of its employees (during that period)," Amazon said in a document leaked to Reuters.

Amazon also has faced criticism on the other side of the Atlantic with some U.S. labor groups expressing concern over the company's health and safety record.

While the company has said it would offer workers temperature checks and masks, a small group of warehouse workers have staged strikes and walkouts.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., criticized Amazon on Twitter Tuesday after an employee reportedly lost their job for organizing for paid leave and workplace safety.

Sud Commerce union, which brought the French lawsuit against the online shipping giant, also has accused Amazon of imperiling the lives of workers amid the pandemic after the hospitalization of an employee and several virus diagnoses at warehouse sites.

Prime Minister Éduoard Phillippe announced on March 14 that all non-essential businesses would close amid the outbreak. President Emmanuel Macron extended the country’s emergency measures until May 11.

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, France has experienced 130,253 cases of COVID-19 with 15,729 related deaths.