Art Basel is to cancel its Hong Kong fair because of the coronavirus outbreak, it said Friday, scrapping one of the international art market’s largest and most prestigious events.

The decision is fresh misery for Hong Kong, which has seen multiple major sporting and entertainment events pulled thanks to months of political unrest and now a growing health crisis.

Art Basel. File photo: Tom Grundy.

In a statement, Art Basel blamed the “severe outbreak and spread of the new coronavirus” for its decision in cancelling the fair, which is a major draw for regional art buyers, especially among China’s super-wealthy.

Bernd Stadlwieser, CEO of MCH Group, the Swiss-based company behind the fair, said the decision to cancel was “an extremely difficult one”.

“We explored every other possible option, including postponing the fair, and gathered advice and perspectives from many gallerists, partners, and external experts,” he said in a statement.

“However, today, we have no other option but to cancel the fair.”

The fair had been due to take place in late March.

Hongkongers queue for face masks. File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Art Basel said it remained committed to Hong Kong and planned to host its next edition there in March 2021.

Hong Kong is currently in recession thanks to the triple-whammy of the US-China trade war, seething pro-democracy protests and the emergence of a new virus.

Alongside the Philippines, Hong Kong is the only place outside mainland China to have reported the death of an infected patient.

So far 22 people have tested positive for the virus in the city.

In mainland China, where the epidemic broke out, more than 600 people have died with 30,000 confirmed infections.

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Virus specialists warn the true number of carriers is likely to be much higher.

Hong Kong has reduced the flow of mainland Chinese across the border.

From Saturday, anyone coming from the mainland will face a 14-day mandatory quarantine, although the city authorities have yet to explain how that will work.

Doctors battling the virus have warned that people with no recent history of travel to the mainland are now being infected, suggesting the city has its own self-sustaining local outbreak.

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