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Geneva Motor Show cancelled as coronavirus pushes Swiss to ban large events

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 7, 2019: People by the Audi AG German automobile manufacturer stand at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show. Sergei Fadeichev/TASS (Photo by Sergei Fadeichev\TASS via Getty Images)
People at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show in 2019. (Photo by Sergei Fadeichev/TASS via Getty Images)

The annual Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS), which was due to begin next week, has been cancelled after the continued spread of coronavirus pushed the Swiss government to ban large events.

The Swiss government on Friday instigated a ban of gatherings of 1,000 or more people, effective immediately. The ban runs until 15 March.

Some 150 exhibitors and 90 global or European car premieres were expected at Geneva — the largest event of its kind — with the show slated to be open to the public for 10 days from 5 March.

The show, which pulled in around 600,000 visitors last year, was due to open to the media on Monday.


“We regret this situation, but the health of all participants is our and our exhibitors' top priority. This is a case of force majeure and a tremendous loss for the manufacturers who have invested massively in their presence in Geneva,” said Maurice Turrettini, the chairman of the GIMS, on Friday.

Read more: Stocks fall again amid warnings of coronavirus’ ‘pandemic potential’

The outbreak of the coronavirus has spooked authorities in Europe, and the Swiss ban marks the first time that a country-wide ban on large events has been enforced under a 2016 epidemics law.

There have been eight cases of coronavirus in Switzerland. Italy, which borders Switzerland, now has had over 650 confirmed cases, and 17 deaths.

“The government's top priority is to protect the population. It is responding to the latest developments in the coronavirus epidemic and has categorised the situation in Switzerland as ‘special' in terms of the Epidemics Act,” the Swiss government said on Friday.

The GIMS press office was this week adamant that the show would go on, with increased hygiene measures in place, including frequent disinfecting of surfaces in the expo halls.

They recommended that companies screen their attendees for 14 days prior to travelling for signs of coronavirus.

The GIMS said on Friday that, as recently as a week ago, “there was nothing to suggest” that the Swiss government would take such a measure.

“The situation changed with the appearance of the first confirmed coronavirus diseases in Switzerland,” it said.

Read more: Europe’s economy braces for coronavirus hit as market panic grips

The Word Health Organization late on Thursday warned that no country should assume it will not be affected by coronavirus, raising the prospect of wider economic damage.

“This virus has pandemic potential,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO.

“We are actually in a very delicate situation in which the outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it.”

Unrelated to the coronavirus outbreak, a number of big automotive players had already decided to skip the Geneva show this year, including Jaguar land Rover (TTM), Ford, (F), and Volvo (VOLV-B.ST), the PSA Group, which includes Peugeot, Citroen, and Vauxhall Opel, and Lamborghini.

Increasing numbers of car firms are opting to skip traditional shows and head to big tech fairs like CES in Las Vegas instead, or to put their budgets into exclusive launch events where they won’t be competing for attention with other brands.

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