Couples as members of the opening committee line up during the opening ceremony at the Vienna State Opera during the annual Opera Ball in Vienna, Austria, on February 20, 2020. (AFP/Joe Klamar)
The centerpiece of Vienna's famous winter ball season, the Opera Ball, will not take place because of the coronavirus pandemic, Austria's government announced Wednesday.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in a statement that although it was a "great advertisement" for Austrian culture, "due to the corona situation it would be irresponsible to hold the ball in the normal fashion".
Originally planned for February 11, the ball is a major event in Austria's cultural calendar, attended by the country's political and economic elites as well as foreign celebrities.
The ball has only been cancelled once before since 1956 -- during the 1991 Gulf War.
"The Opera Ball requires a long preparation period and at the moment we cannot assume that we can hold an event hosting 7,000 people, with music, dancing and a relaxed atmosphere," said state secretary for culture Andrea Mayer.
Several other prominent winter balls have already been cancelled for the coming season, some of which would have been held at Vienna's imperial Hofburg palace.
Under current rules in Austria some larger events are allowed to go ahead if organizers can prove they are taking extra safety measures, but many ball organizers have felt these wouldn't be practical.
The iconic luxury Sacher Hotel in Vienna announced this month it would have to fire a quarter of its employees, or 100 people, because of the collapse in tourist demand.
Austria is battling to contain a second wave of the virus, with the average number of daily new cases over the past week topping 660.
Overall there have been more than 40,000 cases of the coronavirus recorded in the country of just under nine million people, and 777 deaths.
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