Swiss govt bans large gatherings over virus fears

Updated February 29, 2020

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The move aimed to avoid throngs in confined places like concert halls, sports events and carnival parades. — AFP/File
The move aimed to avoid throngs in confined places like concert halls, sports events and carnival parades. — AFP/File

ZURICH: The Swiss government decided on Friday to ban large events expected to draw more than 1,000 people in a drive to curb the new coronavirus epidemic, prompting cancellation of the Geneva car show and grumbling from businesses watching demand vanish.

It did not — at least for now — apply to train stations or shopping malls, where people have only fleeting contact.

Officials from the Palexpo venue, forced to cancel a major 10-day car show starting next week, said they understood the move but that it could cost the local economy up to 250 million Swiss francs ($256 million) in lost business.

“The economic impact for the city and region is tremendous,” said Lars Wagner, general manager of the luxury Hotel Beau-Rivage Genve.

“Not only does this impact hotels, but also auxiliary revenues such as hotel restaurant bookings, cocktail and catering events, and other revenues.”

As cancellations from guests started rolling in, another Geneva hotelier called the situation “a nightmare”.

The Swiss government declared a “special situation” under the country’s Epidemics Act, enabling it to order measures that are normally the responsibility of the regional cantons.

“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 March 15,” the cabinet said.

Dozens of trade fairs and industry conferences around the world have been postponed or cancelled due to travel curbs and concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

The annual Engadin ski marathon in eastern Switzerland, one of the world’s largest cross-country skiing events with around 14,000 participants, had already been scrapped because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

The Swiss soccer league called off weekend matches, while ice hockey teams were set to play before empty grandstands.

Trade fair organiser MCH Group pulled the plug on the Baselworld watch fair and garden shows, sending its shares down more than 10%.

Countries on three continents reported their first cases of the coronavirus on Friday as the world prepared for a pandemic.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2020