Contestants on Germany's "Big Brother" have been living in isolation for more than a month — completely oblivious to the coronavirus pandemic spreading around the globe. But that ended Tuesday night, when they were informed during a live TV special that much of the world is also living in .
Dr. Andreas Kaniewski and host Jochen Schropp told the 14 contestants, who live together in a house in Cologne, about the pandemic following criticism on social media for keeping the news hidden. The contestants haven't had any contact with the outside world since February 6.
The decision to tell them was "made in consultation" with the contestants' relatives, SAT.1, the channel that airs the show, said on its website. After being informed of the news, housemates were given the opportunity to ask questions and see video messages from relatives.
According to a "Big Brother" fansite, Kaniewski and Schropp appeared to be delivering the news behind a glass partition. The contestants seemed "a bit shellshocked and emotional," upon hearing the news, the site tweeted.
The show acknowledged that contestants may have previously known about the virus spreading in Wuhan, China, when they entered the house, but were unaware of the further global outbreak. Four new residents joined the show March 9, but were explicitly told not to talk about coronavirus.
"The health and well-being of 'Big Brother' housemates is our priority," production company Endemol Shine said in a statement Tuesday. "All current productions were informed last week that the usual format rules regarding outside news do not apply in this instance, and it was requested that they inform their respective housemates of the evolving situation regarding COVID-19. The majority of Housemates have already been briefed and this process will be complete today (17th March)."
As of Tuesday, Germany has over 8,600 cases of — the fifth-highest number of cases globally — and 23 deaths. Chancellor Angela Merkel has closed schools and other public spaces and issued a global travel warning in an attempt to slow the virus' spread.
According to BBC News, contestants on "Big Brother" Canada and "Big Brother" Australia, which are both currently in production, have all been informed about the virus. However, housemates on "Big Brother" Brazil appear to still be unaware of the pandemic, and are scheduled to remain in the house until late April.