Art Basel gets complicated: Swiss authorities will not accept Astra Zeneca vaccine while US issues ‘do not travel’ advisory

Non-EU visitors will have to apply for Swiss Covid-19 certificate before attending and, with certain vaccines not recognised, some will have to take tests onsite

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Art Basel visitors walked around mask-free in 2019. This year they will have to wear face coverings Courtesy of Art Basel

Art Basel visitors walked around mask-free in 2019. This year they will have to wear face coverings Courtesy of Art Basel

With the US issuing a "do not travel" advisory for Switzerland on Monday and the Swiss authorities laying down some tough requirements for entry into large-scale events, getting into Art Basel this month is going to be far from straightforward and is causing rising concern.

The fair (24-26 September, previews 21-23 September) is having to comply with prescriptive requirements set out by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health for large-scale conventions. But many of these instructions have only recently been communicated to exhibitors, with many visitors still likely to be in the dark.

In a nutshell, here is what you must do before you go:

  • Every visitor from a non-EU/EFTA country (eg. the US or UK) must email their proof of vaccination and a copy of their photo ID or passport to 
  • This will then be converted into a Swiss Covid-19 certificate that visitors will be able to collect (in paper form) on site at the fair from from Friday 17 September onwards—look for the Covid-19 Certification Centre. You will need your original documents (proof of vaccination and photo ID) in order to collect it.
  • If you forget to apply for the certificate, it will be possible to register on site—but be warned, this will delay your entry into the fair.

Those travelling from EU countries or Switzerland must provide a valid Swiss or EU Covid-19 certificate and a form of ID.

Vaccine confusion

Another complication causing concern among galleries is that not all vaccines are recognised by Swiss authorities when it comes to entering large-scale events—although they are approved for entry into the country itself. Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are approved by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health for large-scale events.

But it was communicated by Art Basel last week that Astra Zeneca is not approved by the Swiss authorities for live events—a cause for concern for many UK-based exhibitors and visitors aged over 40 who had the vaccine. Visitors will have to take a test on arrival at the fair and repeat it every 48 hours. However, exhibitors will be able to take one PCR test (paid for by the fair) on arrival in Basel at a testing facility in the exhibitor lounge and, providing they get a negative result, they will not have to repeat the test for the duration of the fair.

For all non-exhibitors, PCR test will gain you access for 72 hours, a lateral flow test for 48 hours—the latter will be available at the fair at a cost of CHF37 (£30) each; results will be turned around within 15 minutes. Although Art Basel is recommending that you pre-book a testing slot, you will be able to turn up and get a test without a booking if necessary—but you will probably have to wait.

An added complication to this is that the Astra Zeneca vaccination is recognised by the EU, therefore those vaccinated in an EU country will be able to apply for their digital EU Covid-19 certificate and be able to enter the fair without a test. Those vaccinated with Astra Zeneca outside the EU will have to apply for the Swiss Covid-19 certificate as above.

Those with any other vaccine (for example Sinovac)—if they are non-EU or EFTA citizens—will need to be tested on site as these are not registered by Swiss authorities.

Be aware of risk of hotel quarantine

So what happens if you, as an exhibitor or visitor, catch Covid-19 at the fair? Art Basel says they must take a PCR test to confirm the result at the Covid-19 Certification Centre in Basel. If the PCR test is positive, the person then must isolate for ten days. Basel hotels have been asked to provide isolation rooms to cope with this eventuality and, according to an Art Basel spokesperson, anyone who tests positive will be able to quarantine in the same hotel as they are already staying. It is recommended that visitors to the fair take out extra travel insurance to cover the possible additional costs of quarantine which are likely to be hefty considering the steep price of Basel hotels, particularly if a gallery has to quarantine its entire team.

If you test positive, the Swiss local authorities will contact you directly to request a list of people you have been in contact with—which is likely quite a few—and inform them of any necessary next steps.

Finally, remember your face mask—Art Basel is requiring all visitors to wear one.

  • Please email a.brady@theartnewspaper.com if you would like to share your thoughts on exhibiting at and visiting Art Basel and other art fairs this autumn.
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