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Louvre, Paris. Photo: Irina Ledyaeva/Unsplash.
Louvre, Paris. Photo: Irina Ledyaeva/Unsplash.

Art Dubai Postponed, Louvre Reopens as Fear of Coronavirus Grips Europe and the Middle East

As the coronavirus spreads across the globe, arts museums and cultural sites and organizations have shuttered as countries attempt to contain the outbreak. While the number of new cases reported from China has slowed, the number of people diagnosed outside of Asia is on the rise, which has sparked global action.

On Tuesday, the organizers of Art Dubai postponed the next edition of the fair, which was scheduled for March 25–28. On Sunday, the Louvre closed its doors after the staff walked out when management failed to address their mounting fears about catching the virus. Following a long staff meeting that took place this morning, the Louvre announced today that it is reopening. 

According to a joint statement issued by Art Dubai CEO Benedict Floyd, artistic director Pablo del Val, and international director Chloe Vaitsou, the fair will still hold a downsized version of the event for local galleries. “Given the essential role the fair plays in promoting local and regional artists, we have made the decision to stage a program tailored to the local cultural community instead. . . . The goals and ambitions for this reconfigured program maintain our objective to deliver commercial, institutional, and critical engagement with Dubai’s art ecosystem—a commitment of support to our local community that we felt an imperative to uphold.”

The announcement comes on the heels of the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Education’s decision to start spring vacation for public and private schools, colleges, and universities early. According to Gulf News, the ministry said that the preventive measure will “ensure the safety of students and is in line with efforts and measures taken at the national level, aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus (covid-19).” Beginning Sunday, March 8, the institutions will remain closed for four weeks, during which time all the facilities will be sterilized.

Wednesday morning, Aljazeera reported that there have been at least 2,476 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Gulf region—the majority of which are in Iran, where 2,336 people are infected and seventy-seven people have died. Among those who contracted the virus are several politicians, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a close advisor to the Supreme Leader, who has since passed away. Germany, France, and Great Britain have pledged to send medical supplies to Iran to help it combat the covid-19 outbreak.

In addition to Art Dubai, the electronic music Ultra festival and K-Pop’s Music Bank concert, which were expected to take place in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, respectively, later this month, have both been called off. The inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival, which would have been held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia—which registered its first case on Monday and subsequently banned residents from Gulf Cooperation Council countries from entering the kingdom—from March 12 to March 21, has been suspended. Other events, including forums, festivals, and religious and sporting events, have also been postponed or canceled.

The New York Times reports that, as of Wednesday, the deaths outside of China have exceeded those in the country. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), also announced at a press conference in Geneva on Tuesday that the global mortality rate is now 3.4 percent, making the virus deadlier than the flu. Since the virus first appeared in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, in December 2019, it has reached more than seventy-five countries, with Italy, Iran, and South Korea recording the highest number of cases.

In Europe, Italy, which has been the hardest hit by the virus, placed ten towns in the Lombardy region under lockdown last month and advised all museums to close. As of Tuesday, The Local reported all but one of Italy’s regions have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The country’s death toll has reached seventy-nine. The fatalities were all elderly patients, and the majority had underlying health problems.

In neighboring France, where a fifth person has died, President Emmanuel Macron has recently banned public gatherings of more than five thousand people. Because the Louvre draws an average of fifteen thousand visitors each day, its staffers’ concerns over their risk of contracting the virus and demands to temporarily close the institution were not surprising. Other events that were canceled in Paris include the half-marathon and the annual le Salon Livre. On Tuesday, Macron said, “It is paramount to show clarity, resilience, nerves, and determination to slow the epidemic . . . and then fight it.” 

On Tuesday, the United Kingdom released an action plan for when the epidemic strikes. According to The Guardian, the government has warned that one fifth of the UK’s workforce will likely be sick during the height of its coronavirus outbreak. Since limiting large public gatherings seems to be the main line of defense against the virus, which is spread easily from person to person, the London Book Fair, the second-largest book fair in the world, has also been canceled.

Organizers of the annual three-day event, which draws around twenty-five thousand people, said: “The effects, actual and projected, of coronavirus are becoming evident across all aspects of our lives here in the [United Kingdom] and across the world, with many of our participants facing travel restrictions. We have been following UK government guidelines and working with the rolling advice from the public health authorities and other organizations, and so it is with reluctance that we have taken the decision not to go ahead with this year’s event.”

The United States, where nine deaths have been confirmed in the state of Washington, is working on releasing new guidelines for testing for people who fear that they may be infected, but there has been some confusion over when tests will be ready. In a White House briefing on Monday, Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, said that doctors should be able to conduct nearly a million tests by the end of the week, but other public health officials have claimed that the tests are still in development. As of Tuesday, 118 cases of the coronavirus have been treated across sixteen states, including California, Florida, Nebraska, New York, and Texas. While the virus has caused some people to stock up on face masks and other medical supplies, people are being urged not to panic. 

“It’s important for folks to know right now their risk as American citizens remains low,” said US Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Both Adams and Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the health emergency program at the WHO, are also asking the public not to buy masks, which they say don’t actually help. Ryan said: “The most important thing everyone can do is wash your hands, keep your hands away from your face and observe very precise hygiene.”

[Update: March 4, 1:00 PM]

The Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Hashim Sarkis, announced this afternoon that it is pushing back its opening by three months. Instead of opening on May 23, it will now kick off on August 29. Its end date of November 29 will remain the same. A statement issued by organizers reads: 

The new dates for the Biennale Architettura have been established as a consequence of the recent precautionary measures in the matter of mobility taken by the governments of a growing number of countries around the world, which will have a domino effect on the movement of people and works in coming weeks. This period of time coincides with the delicate initial phase of setting up an international exhibition as complex as the Biennale Architettura, which involves architects and institutions from over sixty countries on all continents.