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The recent outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus strain continues to spread across countries, causing more fatalities and pausing cultural life everywhere the epidemic arrives. In Italy, amid reports of six deaths from the virus this weekend, authorities have instructed museums and festivals in seven regions of the country’s north — including cities like Venice, Turin, and Milan — to cease their operations for at least a week.
With more than 229 cases reported in the country, officials in Italy have instructed cultural institutions in the regions of Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia to close to the public. Furthermore, the ministry of culture has canceled the nationwide free admission day to state museums celebrated on the first Sunday of each month.
While still recovering from the devastating floodings of last November, 11 civic museums in the city of Venice announced that they will remain closed until March 1. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection will be closed for the same period. In addition, planned events at the Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi, a gallery run by the French billionaire collector François Pinault, have been canceled. And finally, the Venice Carnival, which was set to run through Tuesday, was closed earlier than planned on Sunday.
In Milan, the Pinacoteca di Brera, the city’s largest public gallery, will be closed until March 3. The decision was made “in compliance with the decree of the Lombardy Region concerning measures to contain coronavirus contagion,” the institution said in a statement on its website. Milan’s cathedral, opera house (Teatro alla Scala) and two exhibition venues run by Fondazione Prada museums — Largo Isarco and Osservatorio — have shut down as well. And in Turin, the local health department issued an order to close all museums until February 29.
The reports from Italy follow a cascade of announcements on institutions shuttered and events canceled worldwide due to the spread of the disease. Earlier today, February 24, Sotheby’s announced in a statement that it will relocate its April Modern and Contemporary sales from Hong Kong to New York. “Sotheby’s offers its support and empathy during this time to all the people and areas most affected by the Covid-19 virus,” the auction house said in a statement. Other planned events, including sales of jewelry, watches, wine, and Asian art, have been postponed to the week of July 6 in Hong Kong.
On Friday, February 21, the Beijing-based Jingart art fair announced the cancellation of its third edition, which was scheduled to run from May 21-24. This follows the postponement of Christie’s 20th Century and Contemporary Art sale in Hong Kong from March to May, and the contentious cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong, which has since transitioned to an online platform.
In South Korea, where the toll of infections has climbed to 833, authorities have raised the alert level to maximum and ordered the temporal shuttering of 24 national museums and libraries.
Meanwhile, the epidemic has also reached Iran, where 12 have been reported dead and 47 infected. China’s National Health Commission reported 648 new confirmed cases and 97 additional deaths as of February 22.
Despite these alarming reports, the coronavirus epidemic has not yet reached the scale of a worldwide pandemic, according to the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. However, the official warns that the potential for a pandemic exists unless countries cooperate on stopping the spread of the virus.
“Does this virus have unlimited potential? Absolutely,” Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing today. “Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”