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Mar 16 2020

Art Fair Claims “No Risk” to Visitors Despite Infected Gallerist

by HG Masters

TEFAF Maastricht, who closed its 2020 edition four days ahead of schedule after an exhibitor tested positive for Covid-19, maintains that there was “no risk” to fair attendees. Courtesy TEFAF.

TEFAF—The European Fine Art Fair, in Maastricht, maintains that there was “no risk” to several thousand fair attendees despite an unnamed Italian gallerist, who worked at TEFAF for three days since its opening on March 5, having tested positive for Covid-19 after he went home less than 48 hours later.

According to the latest study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, the median incubation period for the novel coronavirus is five days, during which time the disease is highly contagious even if the person is asymptomatic.

A TEFAF spokesperson explained to ArtAsiaPacific that the fair was following the advice of health officials from the Maastricht region. In TEFAF’s March 11 statement announcing the closure of the fair that day, four days ahead of its schedule, due to “concerns related to the coronavirus,” fair organizers claimed that authorities who evaluated the case concluded that the exhibitor “was not showing symptoms at the fair and therefore did not cause a health risk for visitors or anyone working at the fair.” Frank Klaasen, head of the Municipal and Regional Health Service (GGD), was quoted specifically as saying “the exhibitor was not contagious during his time in TEFAF.”

Dutch health authorities have not explained how they determined that someone who had tested positive for Covid-19 and had spent three days working at the indoor event was not contagious during the incubation period. Nor have either the health authorities or TEFAF confirmed how they can accurately say that the patient in question was asymptomatic, as symptoms are self-reported. TEFAF’s opening day alone attracted more than 4,000 visitors, although the Netherlands already recorded 82 Covid-19 cases by that time and neighboring Germany reported hundreds more.

AAP’s questions in emails to a TEFAF spokesperson were re-directed to the regional government office, Veiligheidsregio Zuid-Limburg (VRZL), who was unable to reply immediately about the case and was awaiting the input of the GGD health officials. The TEFAF spokesperson re-iterated that there had been “no risk.”

After the fair closed on March 11, international workers from 282 galleries began their return to cities around Europe and globally, unsure of their level of exposure to the virus, and therefore uncertain of the steps they should take to protect themselves and their families, friends, and colleagues.

Gallery employees and visitors to TEFAF contacted by AAP were confused by the information circulated by TEFAF from Dutch regional health authorities stating that the infected gallerist had not been a health risk to anyone. Some have resorted to seeking independent medical advice, some have opted to self-quarantine, while others were adopting less stringent precautions.

TEFAF did not respond directly to questions from AAP regarding whether visitors or workers at TEFAF should self-quarantine following the fair.

For many people, it was unclear why TEFAF had waited over two days following news of the exhibitor testing positive to close, or why the fair had even carried on in the first place. Three participants from the United States and France had dropped out before even making the trip to the Netherlands, and many visitors opted not to attend this edition. Meanwhile, even though a cluster of cases in northern Italy transformed the region into a major hot spot in recent weeks, with the World Health Organization declaring Europe to be the new epicenter of the pandemic on March 13, various European governments have continued to downplay risks and have not taken preventative actions such as the restriction of cross-border travelling.

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

To read more of ArtAsiaPacific’s articles, visit our Digital Library.

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