Less razzmatazz, but Nobel Prizes go ahead amid pandemic
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[September 26, 2020]
By Simon Johnson
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - The winners of this
year's Nobel Prizes will miss out on a swanky gala in Stockholm
surrounded by royalty and Sweden's glitterati, but 2020 will at least
not be added to the war years when no awards were given.
Yet as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly enveloped much of the world
earlier this year, that was far from certain.
"When we were thinking about this in March and April this year, we were
worried that it wouldn't be possible to award any prizes at all," Lars
Heikensten, head of the Nobel Foundation that administers the prizes
founded by dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, told Reuters.
While Sweden has not imposed a rigid lockdown like many European
countries, Heikensten said the committees that decide the various prizes
had to switch to working digitally to make the selection process work.
But the foundation was determined that the awards - worth 10 million
Swedish crowns ($1.1 million) this year - go ahead.
"We thought it was particularly important in a year like this, when the
importance of science is so obvious," Heikensten said.
The awards were cancelled during parts of World War One and World War
Two. Some prizes have not been given in individual years, with the most
recent example being the postponement of the Literature prize in 2018
over a sex scandal.
The awards attract huge attention every year, shining a light, if only
briefly, on scientists who work mostly in academic obscurity, while
burnishing the reputations of often better-known authors who receive the
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A bronze bust of Alfred Nobel is pictured before the Nobel Prize
ceremony at Stockholm Concert Hall, in Stockholm, Sweden December
10, 2019. TT News Agency/Claudio Bresciani via REUTERS
But the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed almost a million lives
globally, has meant that the Nobels will have a lower profile this
year with many of the traditional celebrations postponed or
re-jigged as digital events.
The foundation has cancelled the banquet, highlight of the
celebrations that takes place every December, and the traditional
prize-giving ceremony in Stockholm's Concert Hall will be replaced
by a televised event where winners receive their prizes in their
This year's first prize - for Physiology or Medicine - will be
announced on Oct. 5. Heikensten said if restrictions allowed by the
end of next year, the 2020 winners would be invited to celebrate
alongside the 2021 laureates.
"The traditional celebrations are important and part of what we are,
but they are not the most important thing, which is the prize
winners and what they embody," he said.
(Editing by Niklas Pollard and Janet Lawrence)
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