Pascal Strupler, Director-General of the Federal Office of Public Health, holds a flyer prior to a meeting of the task force of…
Pascal Strupler of the Federal Office of Public Health holds a flyer prior to a meeting of the task force of the Federal Office of Public Health on the prevention of the further spread of the coronavirus, in Bern, Switzerland, Feb. 28, 2020.

GENEVA - The Swiss government is taking the unprecedented step of banning all public events that have more than 1,000 people in response to a growing number of cases of coronavirus in the country.

The latest number of reported cases of coronavirus infections in Switzerland is 19. An estimated 100 people are in quarantine.

The ban, expected to extend until at least mid-March, has interrupted a number of events, but Swiss authorities say the government's top priority is to protect the population.

The ban comes in the middle of carnival season, which draws thousands of merrymakers to Swiss towns and villages. One of the biggest casualties is the Geneva International Motor Show, which was scheduled to run March 5 to 15, and attracts about 500,000 visitors every year.

Cars and workers are pictured at the Palexpo exhibition center as the 90th edition of the International Motor Show is canceled to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Geneva, Switzerland, Feb. 28, 2020.

The United Nations is unsure how the Swiss Federal Council's decision will affect large-scale events scheduled to take place on its premises. For now, the Human Rights Council is the only mass gathering at the U.N. in Geneva.  

U.N. Spokesman Rolando Gomez says the news is fresh and he does not know how it will play out. The council session, which examines human rights violations around the world, is due to last until March 20.

"Obviously, you well know there are well over 1,000 participants at the council," he said.

Switzerland's first case of COVID-19 was confirmed Tuesday in the Ticino region, which has cross-border traffic with Italy, Europe's worst-hit country. The World Health Organization says Italy now has 400 cases of coronavirus, and numbers are continuing to rise.  

As of Friday morning, the WHO reported more than 83,000 cases of COVID-19 in China, including 2,058 deaths. It reported 4,351 cases in 49 countries outside China, and 67 deaths.  Nigeria, the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, just reported its first case of coronavirus, as did Mexico.
 

Special Section