Coronavirus outbreak prompts European Space Agency to impose travel restrictions

The European Space Agency's headquarters in Paris, France.
The European Space Agency's headquarters in Paris, France. (Image credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA) has implemented "clear measures" as the organization deals with the impact of coronavirus, the agency's director-general said in an update.

There are about 2,200 staff working for ESA, according to agency numbers. Besides that, thousands more people come into contact with agency staff regularly through research, contracts and other opportunities.

Measures such as restricted travel at ESA have now been implemented with the rise of coronavirus, the ESA blog post stated. The illness has nearly 100,000 cases reported worldwide, including more than 4,000 cases in ESA member state Italy, according to information from Johns Hopkins University. While most people have recovered from the illness, around 3,500 deaths have been reported globally.

Related: NASA tests telecommute plan amid coronavirus worries 

"Each and every one of us ... must act responsibly to help counteract the coronavirus, including through minimizing travel, avoiding events attended by many people, washing our hands regularly and finally contacting a doctor immediately in the event that we develop the by now well-known symptoms," director-general Johann-Dietrich Wörner said in the blog post.

According to the World Health Organization, people with coronavirus typically have flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough and respiratory troubles; more severe cases can lead to issues such as pneumonia or kidney failure.

Wörner said the hyperconnected nature of our world, in general, presents "a fertile breeding ground for the global spread of such a virus." Even ESA has had its struggles with preventing the spread of the virus, since operations such as working with satellites do require gatherings of people, he added.

ESA has another major milestone to work through quickly amid the spread of coronavirus. Next week, representatives from ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, will meet to come to a decision about whether to launch the ExoMars rover, Rosalind Franklin, this summer, as planned.

The rover has faced a few obstacles to its development, including repeated failed parachute tests and some difficulties in bonding the rover's solar panels. If the rover must be delayed, the mission will need to wait about 26 months until Earth and Mars are close enough in their respective orbits to launch a spacecraft to the Red Planet again.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: