Coronavirus prompts European Southern Observatory to close facilities, cancel events

An aerial view of the European Southern Observatory's headquarters and Planetarium & Visitor Centre in Germany.
An aerial view of the European Southern Observatory's headquarters and Planetarium & Visitor Centre in Germany. (Image credit: S. Lowery/ESO)

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has closed several of its facilities and canceled public events in Germany and Chile in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

There have not been any reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at any of the ESO sites. However, the agency is taking measures to ensure the safety of its staff and the public, which includes closing its facilities, canceling public events and limiting travel by staff and visitors, according to a statement. 

"We ask for the understanding of all those who may be affected by these measures," the statement said. "We are fully committed to putting the wellbeing and safety of people first."

Related: Full coronavirus and COVID-19 coverage from our partner Live Science

The ESO's Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre in Germany has closed for the remainder of March, according to the statement. The agency has also canceled public activities at its Garching Headquarters in Germany, including a Girls' Day Event planned for March 26. 

The organization's facilities in South America are also seeing measures to contain the coronavirus. ESO has closed its Santiago offices and suspended public visits to its La Silla and Paranal Observatories in Chile until further notice. Public events at the agency's Vitacura-Santiago office in Chile have also been canceled for the remainder of March, including an Open House Day. 

Rather than implement across-the-board rules for researchers, the organization is deciding what travel to permit on a case-by-case basis. "We are promoting remote participation for international conferences and limiting duty travel to instances deemed to be mission-critical and time-critical," ESO representatives said in the statement. "Visitors are asked to check with their ESO contact before traveling whether their visit or event is still on and, if so, what measures would apply for their specific case." 

According to a global tracker produced by Johns Hopkins University, the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has topped 127,000. According to the tracker, there have been more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases reported in Germany and 23 reported cases in Chile, as of early today (March 12).

ESO's decision follows the European Space Agency's decision to limit travel of employees and NASA's decision to close the Ames Research Center in California and require nonessential employees to work from home. 

ESO will continue to monitor the global spread of the coronavirus and take necessary action to respond, with current closings and any future event cancellations reviewed in the coming weeks, according to the statement. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.