Zurich claims Basel Fair violated Swiss SARS ban

A formal complaint has been made against the Swiss parent firm of the international BaselWorld watch and jewelry fair for allegedly failing to “implement correctly” Swiss government measures this spring to prevent the spread of the SARS infection. The fair was held April 2-10, 2003, in Basel and Zurich, Switzerland.

The complaint was filed June 30 against MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd. by the health department of Zurich, where BaselWorld had relocated its 26 national pavilions (783 non-brand exhibitors) under a new “one show, two cities” plan. Four days before BaselWorld 2003 opened, Zurich had asked the Swiss government to order it shut down, concerned that some of the 380 Asian exhibitors in Zurich might have the contagious SARS virus. Though BaselWorld and its Asian exhibitors had already implemented required health measures, the Swiss government imposed new restrictive measures that barred participation by Asian exhibitors and their staffs in Zurich. (No government restrictions were set on Asian visitors or buyers to BaselWorld in Zurich or Basel.) Both the Basel Fair and the Hong Kong delegation in May filed formal appeals challenging the Swiss government’s actions and say legal actions will probably follow.

In their June 30 complaint, Zurich authorities allege Swiss Exhibition “failed to implement correctly the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health ruling.” Despite the government ban, they claim, Asian exhibitors from SARS-affected countries had worked at BaselWorld’s site in Zurich and cited “about 30 violations” of the order.

In a July 1 response, Swiss Exhibition said it was “both surprised and disappointed” by Zurich’s accusations. During BaselWorld 2003, it said, “Swiss Exhibition did everything to implement correctly” the Swiss government’s April 1 ruling. It “distributed the [government’s] ruling, including recommendations and measures, several times to all exhibiting companies … carried out its own controls every day [and] when necessary, forbade persons affected from working on the exhibition stand.”

Swiss Exhibition said authorities in both Basel and Zurich earlier had “confirmed … several times that the ruling had been entirely correctly implemented” by the Fair’s management.