With hundreds of cases coronavirus now confirmed in Europe, a noted scientist in The Netherlands has suggested that it would be foolish to stage Eurovision 2020 if the spread of the virus isn’t brought under control. Speaking to Dutch newspaper AD, Ab Osterhaus, a leading Dutch virologist and expert on influenza, questioned the wisdom of bringing tens of thousands of people from all over the world to Rotterdam.
“You have to take into account the scenario that events like the Eurovision Song Contest cannot go ahead,” he said. “But that depends on how the coronavirus develops in the coming period.”
The outbreak and spread of coronavirus has already forced several other high-profile events to be cancelled or postponed. The famed Venice Carnival, which was meant to finish February 25, was shut down two days early. And The Mobile World Congress — set to start on February 24 in Barcelona — was called off entirely. Organisers of large events later in the year have already switched plans, too. The Formula One China Grand Prix, scheduled for April, has been postponed until further notice. Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, has just said a final decision about the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could be put off until the end of May.
Mr Osterhaus told AD that it’s likely the Netherlands will have to deal with Covid-19 — the official name of the disease caused by the virus. “It is still possible that the virus will eventually be suppressed,” he said. “We succeeded with SARS, but the virus spread less quickly.”
It’s important to note that the virus survives longer in cold weather. There are hopes that as temperatures rise in the spring and summer, the number of new infections will slow. Eurovision, of course, isn’t until May.
Eurovision 2020: Will the song contest go on despite coronavirus?
Although the overwhelming majority of cases and deaths have been in China, the new virus has spread across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. In recent days Italy has emerged as a new epicentre of the virus. As of Tuesday evening, Italy had reported 322 infections — up from 229 on Monday — and a death toll of 10. This is the largest cluster of cases outside of Asia. It’s still spreading. On February 25, new cases were reported in Spain, Austria, Croatia, Switzerland and France. Authorities have linked many of these cases back to the Lombardy region of northern Italy.
There is uncertainty about the mortality rate, as many people infected with the virus don’t show any symptoms. But the higher scientific estimates suggest the virus is about twenty times more deadly than the flu. That’s according to data from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which has conducted the largest-scale study on cases thus far. (We should point out that this research was done on cases in China, so may not reflect mortality rates elsewhere owing to varying access to quality medical care, among other variables). The elderly and frontline medical staff are the most vulnerable. Against this backdrop, it’s only natural that questions are being asked about Eurovision.
On February 24 a spokeswoman for the city of Rotterdam told AD that they’re assessing the situation. “We monitor everything closely and are prepared for all possible risks and threats,” Ingrid Adriaanse said. “On the basis of this, an assessment is made as to whether additional measures are needed. However, it is currently too early to comment on possible scenarios.”
NPO has also responded. On February 25, Eurovison spokesman Danny Vormer said that the broadcaster takes its guidance from RIVM — The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment — rather than Mr Osterhaus.
“This man is undoubtedly good at his job, but we follow RIVM,” he said. “Their advice leads and if they say there is a specific threat, then we will take action. It is too early now.”
The EBU, of course, has experience in planning for crisis situations. It always has a backup plan if the host city is struck by terrorism, an extreme weather event, a natural disaster or other circumstances that could derail the festival. If the public aspect of the event were cancelled, it is still likely the show would proceed in some form — whether that’s relocating to a TV studio or playing to an empty arena.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Instead we’ll hope that the outbreak slows and that scientists and authorities can collaborate to bring it to an end.