Switzerland canceled large events and Germany quarantined about 1,000 people as Europe stepped up measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Public and private gatherings with more than 1,000 people won’t be allowed until March 15, the Swiss government said on Friday. The move hit the Geneva Motor Show, which was set to open to the public on March 5. The cancellation of one of Europe’s biggest auto exhibitions comes after the wireless industry earlier this month scrapped the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and China postponed large-scale events scheduled through late March.
In addition to threatening big events, the public health scare prompted authorities in the German municipality of Heinsberg, near the Dutch border, to ask people who came into contact with a married couple with the disease to stay at home, spokesman Ulrich Hollwitz said by phone on Friday. The pair had attended a Carnival event in mid-February with about 400 people, and the isolation affects them and their family and friends.
As the number of cases rises, European leaders are struggling to project an image of business as usual. French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte drank coffee together in a bar in Naples on Thursday, calling for European cooperation and rejecting calls for suspending the Schengen Treaty that allows for border-free travel within the European Union.
Italy remains the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe. Cases in the country soared to 650 on Thursday from 400 a day earlier. The first measures to support the most affected areas may be approved by the Italian government as early as Friday, Economic Development Minister Stefano Patuanelli said. The country is considering subsidies to help pay utility bills as well as mortgage-payment suspensions.
German infections rose to nearly 60, while the first two cases in the Netherlands were confirmed. The Dutch patients, who are being kept in isolation, recently visited Italy’s Lombardy region. Globally, there are over 83,000 cases, including more than 700 in Europe.
A crisis task force in Germany will meet on Friday afternoon in Berlin to discuss next steps, including the possibility of canceling the ITB tourism trade fair. The organizers said on Twitter that they are coordinating with state and federal officials on how to proceed.
EasyJet Plc said it’s planning to cancel flights as demand slows for travel, particularly to Italy. Sales of airline tickets are decelerating globally, according to Amadeus IT Group SA, the largest operator of software used by the travel industry to book and sell flights.
While tourists have been particularly vulnerable to quarantines, there has been a sign of easing. Nine guests at a virus-hit hotel on the Spanish island of Tenerife have been allowed to leave, La Provincia newspaper reported. The government said Thursday that as many as 130 guests of about 700 at the hotel were awaiting authorization to depart because they had no contact with an Italian doctor and his wife who were found to have the virus.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel consulted with her ministers on Friday morning, with all state organizations focused on halting or slowing the spread.
Europe’s largest economy is looking at a range of measures to protect its key export sector and address the damage from a slowdown stemming from virus’s impact on business. The benchmark DAX Index lost 3.7% at 12:02 p.m. on Friday.
The government’s plans would seek to improve conditions for doing business, including reducing the tax burden on companies and boosting tax relief for digital investment, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Thursday in Berlin, adding that Germany is in “a period of growing uncertainty” and couldn’t rule out cuts to growth forecasts.
The fallout looks to be spreading, compounding a broader industrial slump. BASF SE warned of a possible second annual profit drop due to the impact of the coronavirus and an ongoing automotive slump.
Germany is monitoring transport links by air, sea and land and will ask international travelers to fill in landing cards stating where else they’ve traveled, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Thursday.
“The situation has clearly deteriorated,” he said. “The term ‘beginning of an epidemic’ means that the number of cases will increase.”