The Nobel banquet, which would have taken place in Stockholm City Hall on 10 December will be cancelled this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are two problems. First, you cannot gather so many people crowded next to each other. Second, it is uncertain whether people can travel to Sweden to the extent they want,” Lars Heikensten, outgoing CEO of the Nobel Foundation, told the newspaper Dagens Nyheter.
The winners will be announced as usual in October, but it is not yet clear how the award ceremony will take place.
“It is a bit unclear how we do with it. Exactly as usual, with everyone gathering at the Concert Hall, it probably will not be. But it could be that some prize winners come to Stockholm and some stay in their home country, and that we connect them digitally in some way,” Heikensten explained.
However, the foundation is planning some sort of televised celebration for the laureates, and the Nobel Prize Museum will open an exhibition during Nobel Week in December.
Heikensten rejected the idea that the decision to cancel the banquet was influenced by the fact that Sweden, due to its large number of COVID-19 cases, has been classified as a high-risk area by some countries.
Instead, Heikensten sees the cancelled banquet as a way to highlight what the Nobel Prize is really all about.
“The situation offers just as good opportunities to highlight what the Nobel Prize is about, that is science, literature and peace work. The award itself will be in greater focus, and it provides new opportunities,” Heikensten mused. “The pandemic is basically a major crisis for humanity, but it also means that the issues facing the Nobel Foundation have become even more important. So people will be reminded of the importance of science.”
This is the fourth time the banquet has been cancelled in peacetime since the prize was established in 1901. The banquet was previously cancelled in 1907, after King Oscar II's passing, in 1924 when no laureates appeared due to various reasons, and in 1956 when the Nobel Foundation chose to cancel the banquet to avoid inviting the Soviet ambassador in the aftermath of what was seen as an invasion of Hungary following the Budapest uprising. Instead, an unofficial dinner without the ambassador was organised in the Stock Exchange Hall, according to historian and Nobel Prize expert Gustav Källstrand.
During the the World Wars, no Nobel banquets were held either, despite the fact that prizes were awarded during World War I. In 1920, a collective event was held.