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Reality show participants have only just been told about the coronavirus — live on TV

Wuttisak Promchoo | Getty Images

Participants in the "Big Brother" reality TV show in Germany have only just found out about the extent of the new coronavirus.

Fourteen contestants who have been locked in a house in Cologne for more than a month were told about the pandemic via a video shown on live TV on Tuesday evening.

In the show, people are put in a house together for a number of weeks and their activities filmed for a nightly TV program. Participants entered the house when the first coronavirus cases were being reported in Wuhan, China, before it became a pandemic, but now 12 people have died of the disease in Germany and there have been more than 8,000 cases reported. Germany has also closed its borders and shut down shops and schools.

After the video announcement, contestants were allowed to ask questions of the show's resident doctor and received messages from their families. Relatives joked that they may be in the safest place in Germany and requested they bring toilet paper home with them.

The move was made after "consultation with relatives," according to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. Normally housemates are only given information about the outside world if a close relative or friend dies, but after criticism on social media the broadcaster SAT.1 updated its rules.

"Big Brother" evictions usually take place with an audience outside the house, and this was also a source of confusion for contestants in the Canadian version, who wondered why they couldn't hear a crowd outside during the show.

The "Big Brother" contestants aren't the only people to have been isolated from the news. Toms Shoes and Madefor founder Blake Mycoskie spent a week on a silent meditation retreat in Baja California Sur in Mexico and posted on Instagram that he had "re-entered a very different world," on Tuesday. "My prayers are with all of those infected and the many more who are living with such deep fear," he added.