Switzerland has cancelled football matches, carnival celebrations, concerts and the Geneva International Motor Show in a drastic bid to stem the country's new coronavirus outbreak in its early stages.
Switzerland on Friday cancelled football matches, carnival celebrations, concerts and the Geneva International Motor Show in a drastic bid to stem the country's new coronavirus outbreak in its early stages.
The government announced it was suspending all public and private events with more than 1,000 participants until at least March 15th, invoking emergency powers to do so.
Baselworld, one of the world's biggest watch and jewellery fairs, is also cancelled. Photo: AFP
The ban will even include a Catholic mass due to be held for the first time in 500 years on Saturday at the Geneva cathedral – a bastion of the Protestant Reformation.
In Zurich, concerts by US shock rock pioneer Alice Cooper and guitarist Carlos Santana also had to be cancelled.
The organisers of Baselworld, one of the world's biggest watch fairs, said on Friday they would cancel the 2020 event.
“For health safety reasons and in accordance with the precautionary principle following the bans of large-scale public and private events, … Baselworld announces that it has taken the decision to postpone the show,” it said in a statement.
Popular carnival feasts in Basel and the town of Payerne in western Switzerland will also not go ahead.
“Large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people are to be banned. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March,” the government said in a statement, after the country registered 15 cases.
Hundreds of thousands of people typically attend the Geneva auto show.
The government said that even for gatherings of fewer than 1,000 people “event organisers must carry out a risk assessment in conjunction with the competent cantonal authorities to decide whether or not the event can be held”.
The annual Geneva motor show, a major item on the global auto industry calendar, had been due to start on March 5 and organisers said that stands were nearly completed even though most of the cars had still not arrived.
The show usually premieres more than 100 new models and some 160 exhibitors had planned to attend this year.
“We regret this situation, but the health of all participants is our and our exhibitors' top priority,” said Maurice Turrettini, Chairman of the Foundation Board.
“This is a case of force majeure and a tremendous loss for the manufacturers who have invested massively in their presence in Geneva.
However, we are convinced that they will understand this decision,” he said.
There had been questions for weeks about whether the auto show would go ahead and Turrettini told reporters at a press conference that he was “relieved” that the government's decision had made the situation clear.
Switzerland has now launched a multilingual coronavirus helpline. Photo: AFP
But Olivier Rihs, director of the auto show, said losses for organisers and exhibitors would be “in the millions”.
While visitors would get tickets reimbursed, he said exhibitors would not be refunded because the cancellation was an exceptional event caused by the government decision.
The government conceded in its statement that the ban would “have a significant impact on public life in Switzerland” but added that “it should prevent or delay the spread of the disease, thus reducing its momentum”.
The federal government said the scale of the outbreak allowed it to invoke special powers to order measures that are normally the responsibility of Switzerland's cantons.
Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters that similar measures had proved “effective” in other countries.
At a press conference, he said the number of cases in Switzerland was “not a surprise for us”, adding: “We have to expect an increase in cases in the next few days”.
Switzerland's parliament also announced containment measures on Friday, cancelling public tours and banning MPs from receiving visitors until further notice.
Football matches cancelled
The ban will also affect the Swiss sporting world.
The Swiss Football League said it was cancelling all football matches over the weekend and warned some would have to be held in empty stadiums at a later date.
Switzerland's hockey league said games planned in the coming days would be held without the public and security guards would be posted outside stadiums to enforce the ban.
The United Nations, which has its second biggest office after New York in Geneva was also “assessing the situation”, according to spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci.
“Obviously we will follow the host-country position,” she said, adding that the ban could put in doubt the Human Rights Council which began this week and is due to last until March 20.