As the number of deaths from the coronavirus continues to rise—China has reported 564 deaths since the outbreak began in Wuhan at the end of December—and more museums are closing their doors and postponing programming, the Chinese government is encouraging cultural institutions to engage with visitors digitally.
In a letter dated January 28, the State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced plans to create a public platform for online exhibitions and are encouraging museums to submit 360-degree photos of their galleries. Exhibitions “have a special positive role in spreading knowledge, interpreting culture, and promoting the spirit,” the letter reads.
The UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, which has locations in Beijing and Qinhuangdao, became the latest institution to temporarily shutter. Despite its efforts to sterilize the museum every twenty-four hours, on Thursday it announced that it is pushing back the opening of three exhibitions and will remain closed throughout February.
Earlier this week, Beijing Gallery Weekend announced that it was delaying its 2020 edition, which was set to kick off on March 13, and may possibly cancel the event depending on whether the coronavirus is contained. Citing concerns for the health of their staff and construction teams, the X Museum in Beijing and the He Art Museum in Foshan also recently postponed their grand openings and the CAFA Art Museum has suspended its inaugural Techne Triennial.
As more infections are confirmed—the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 3,700 new cases on Wednesday, galleries are becoming more anxious about the upcoming Art Basel Hong Kong, which is slated to take place from March 19 to March 21. While some dealers have called for its cancelation—organizers have informed exhibitors that it is “working hard to review all possible options,” and as of Thursday the event is still being held.
Since scientists don’t know exactly how the virus is transmitted and there is currently no known treatment for the sick, countries have been closing their borders to travelers from China and evacuating their citizens from the country. Australia recently denied entry to two Chinese artists, Xiao Ke and Zi Han, who were scheduled to perform at Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts. In the US, where twelve cases have been confirmed, evacuees are being held at military bases for a period of fourteen days, which is believed to be the maximum amount of days it takes the coronavirus to manifest after one is exposed.
While WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency, the agency has since argued against countries closing their borders and placing restrictions on travel since travelers entering countries unofficially would hinder efforts to contain the virus. Instead it recommends official screenings of travelers at border crossings.