Valencia’s ‘Fallas’ suspended over coronavirus fears

Valencia's annual 'Fallas' celebration have been suspended due to coronavirus. Photo: Manuel Bruque / EFE via Público
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Valencia’s regional government has announced the postponement until further notice of the massive annual Fallas celebrations in the city of Valencia, as well as the Magdalena festival in Castellón, due to fears of further contagion of the coronavirus.

Last year, 2.18 million Spanish and international tourists visited Valencia at the height of the Fallas festival, with 233,021 Italians accounting for more than 10 percent of the international vsitors during the celebration, followed by 144,318 Dutch, 117,061 British and 84,202 French visitors. On Tuesday, the Spanish government announced cancellation of all commercial flights to and from Italy, which has become one of the global coronavirus outbreak hotspots and has the largest number of infected cases in Europe.

The announcement to suspend this year’s Fallas until such time as the government deems it possible they can be held safely was made by Valencian regional President Ximo Puig late Tuesday, following an emergency meeting of Spain’s Consejo Interterritorial council of regional health ministers convened by the national Health Ministry.

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Earlier in the evening, Spanish President Pedro Sánchez said during a nationally televised press conference that any decision regarding potponement of the Fallas or other massive tourist events in Spain this Spring would be made based on “scientific considerations” provide by health officials to Spain’s national and regional governments. Within two hours of the Sánchez comments, Valencian President Puig confirmed that the decision to postpone the celebrations was taken in order to “minimize the risk element for contagion posed by human gatherings and mass movements of people”.

Although preparations and a battery of mini-events and celebrations had already begun, the major Fallas festivities that throng the Valencia city centre with huge crowds each year were scheduled to be held from 15th-19th March. All preparations by local neighbourhood organizations of falleros have been halted and the large figures erected throughout the city in anticipation of their burning in the cremeras bonfires at the height of the festival are to returned to their warehouses until further notice.

Valencia is not considered a region of “high transmission” of the  coronavirus by the Health Ministry. To date, major outbreaks of coronavirus have occurred in Spain’s Basque regional capital of Vitoria, where all schools were closed on Tuesday; in the regional community of Madrid, which followed suit closing all schools for two weeks beginning today; and in La Rioja province, where coronavirus has spread rapidly after a group of elederly in a senior-care home contracted the virus last week.

After the regional health council meeting Tuesday, however, Puig explained that Spain’s Health Ministry had advised Valencia to postpone both the Fallas and the Magdalena de Castellón “to minimize the risk elements” for both cities and the entire Valencian region.

Puig estimated that the postponement would cost Valencia 700 million euros in lost tourism revenues. In the days leading up to the postponement announcement, the hotel sector in the Valencian capital was already reporting a booking cancellation rate of 10 percent among Italian tourists that had planned to visit Valencia during this year’s Fallas celebrations.

Although the celebrations themselves have been cancelled, students in schools in the city of Valencia will still be let out on holiday from the 16th-20th of March.

Dating to the Middle Ages, the traditional Fallas celebrations in Valencia have been held continuously for the last 80 years — the last time the festivities were cancelled was from 1937-39, during the Spanish Civil War, when the country’s Republican government relocated to Valencia from Madrid, then under siege by the nationalist forces under the command of Gen. Francisco Franco.

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