Opec bars journalists from Vienna meetings amid coronavirus scare

The secretariat advised countries to reduce their delegations to a 'bare minimum'

FILE PHOTO: Journalists and police officers stand outside the headquarters of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, Austria, December 5, 2019.  REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
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Opec said it will not allow journalists into the secretariat's headquarters in Vienna ahead of its ministerial meeting as a precautionary measure against the spread of the coronavirus.

The group cited the prospect of a "public health risk" from convening vast numbers of people in one place.

The Opec secretariat said in a note that it is following the advice of the Austrian Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs with regard to the coronavirus risk management and adhering to the recent advisory note of the UN Secretary General. The advisory recommended shortening the format of such gatherings, limit the number of participants and cancel any smaller side-events.

The meeting takes place amid a rout in the oil markets. Prices have dropped by $10 from January as the spread of the novel coronavirus dented demand amid disruption to global supply chains.

Opec is scheduled to meet on March 5 and 6 to review an earlier pact to withdraw 1.7 million barrels per day. The group's Gulf Arab members had been calling for an earlier meeting to halt the slide in prices, which suffered the worst weekly decline since the end of February.

The Opec secretariat also advised countries attending the extraordinary meeting to reduce their delegations to a "bare minimum" in order to mitigate the potential risk of exposure to the Covid-19 virus. The virus has claimed more than 3,000 lives globally and infected more than 93,000.

The advisory comes amid a rising number of cases in Iran, a key Opec founding member, where several ministers have been infected with the coronavirus.

Opec meetings, which are typically attended by journalists, analysts and policymakers, will be live-streamed for the press over the course of the two days.

Another major energy event CERAWeek in Houston was cancelled this week after the US recorded a rising number of infections. Meanwhile, regional events such as Middle East Petroleum and Gas Conference and GEO 2020, scheduled to be held in Bahrain this month, were postponed.