Tourists are canceling their vacation plans in Europe with increasing fears over the number of coronavirus cases reported across the continent.
So far about 820 virus cases have been confirmed in 23 countries in Europe, with the majority in Italy, Germany, France and Spain, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. A total of 19 people died, including 17 in Italy and two in France.
The numbers pale compared to those reported in Asia, where over 80,000 people have been infected and over 2,800 have died.
But as fears grow over a potential global pandemic, travelers are canceling their plans and leaving hotels in crisis.
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SWITZERLAND CANCEL MEETINGS
In Switzerland, all “public and private” events involving more than 1,000 people were banned on Friday by the government.
Officials said the ban would last until at least March 15 in a dramatic attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Numerous events are affected, including the annual Geneva International Motor Show, which runs from March 5th to 15th and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year.
“We are aware that this measure will have a significant impact on public life,” said Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset.
“However, the move should provide effective protection for people in Switzerland and public health.
“It should prevent or delay the spread of the disease in Switzerland, thereby reducing its momentum.”
Any events involving fewer than 1,000 people “must perform a risk assessment” in collaboration with the authorities, the government said.
TOURISTS CANCEL ROMAN HOLIDAYS
Switzerland has reported 15 confirmed cases of new coronavirus, but borders on northern Italy, which has seen the largest group of cases in Europe.
On Thursday, the number of infections in Italy reached 650, a sharp increase over previous official counts which showed 528 on Thursday and 400 on Wednesday.
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Officials said the sharp rise was due to Wednesday’s figures that don’t include all the data from the northern Lombardy region, the hardest hit part of the country.
But the epidemic has already started to affect the local tourism industry.
Hotel reservations in the northern city of Milan plummeted to 20%, compared to almost 90% normally at this time of year.
In Rome – far from the critical points of the virus – over 50% of reservations were canceled until the end of March, says the hotel association Federalberghi.
Mass cancellations triggered an explosion by Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio on Thursday.
“We have gone from an epidemic risk to an” info-demic “of confirmed disinformation, which is currently affecting our flow of tourists, our business and the entire economic system,” he said.
“If schools are open, if our children go to school, tourists and business people can come.”
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Di Maio said that Italy had more cases than other European countries because it was carrying out mass tests – over 11,000 so far – which found positive cases that did not, however, cause disease.
“Out of over 7000 cities in Italy, just over a dozen are affected by this epidemic,” he said.
Italy was “reliable and transparent”, she insisted, adding that she was unfairly penalized by vacationers canceling travel for fear of catching the virus.
Some experts, however, say the country is doing too many tests and may overly report the number of infections to the World Health Organization.
All those who have died so far in Italy were elderly or had pre-existing medical conditions.
So far the government has stopped all movements in and out of 11 cities in two regions of the north – Lombardy and Veneto – in an attempt to stop the spread of the contagion.
EasyJet, a popular budget airline in Europe, warned Friday that flights could be canceled due to a drop in demand.
“Following the higher incidence of COVID-19 cases in Northern Italy, we have seen a significant softening of demand and load factors inside and outside our Northern Italy bases,” he said in a statement.
“In addition, we are seeing slower demand in all our other European markets. As a result, we will make decisions to cancel some flights, in particular those entering and leaving Italy, continuing to monitor the situation and adapt our flight schedule to support demand. “
-With the wires