Swiss ban large-scale events as confirmed virus cases keep rising

ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland on Friday banned large events expected to draw more than 1,000 people as an extraordinary measure to curb the new coronavirus epidemic.

“In view of the current situation and the spread of the coronavirus, the Federal Council has categorized the situation in Switzerland as ‘special’ in terms of the Epidemics Act,” the cabinet said after a meeting.

“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 ban appeared to cover the Geneva Motor Show next week, but a spokeswoman for the Palexpo venue said it had received no information from Swiss authorities and could not comment on whether the car show had been called off.

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

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Switzerland has risen to 15, and more than 100 people are in quarantine, government minister Alain Berset said.

“We have the situation under control, but this can change very quickly,” he said, adding the ban would certainly hit the Swiss economy.

By declaring a “special” situation, the federal government can order measures that are normally the responsibility of the regional cantons.

As the outbreak spread, the canton of Basel-City put a number of children into a two-week quarantine on Thursday after one of their caregivers tested positive for the virus.

The annual Engadin ski marathon, one of the world’s largest cross-country skiing events with around 14,000 participants, had already been canceled because of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, organizers said on Thursday.

In Geneva, United Nations spokesman Rolando Gomez said the world body was reviewing what impact the Swiss ban would have. The UN Human Rights Council’s four-week session now under way would draw more than 1,000 participants, he said.

Reporting by Michael Shields and Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi in Zurich, Ed Taylor in Frankfurt, and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Giles Elgood

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