Coronavirus and Meetings

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The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak in China a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday, Jan. 30, pointing to a significant increase in the number of cases and the spread of the disease to other countries. This designation means WHO considers the respiratory virus a significant threat beyond China where it originated last month.

Authorities in Beijing have shut major tourist sites, including the Forbidden City and a section of the Great Wall due to the spread of the coronavirus. Other events that have been canceled include traditional temple fairs in Beijing, an international carnival in Hong Kong, Hong Kong’s annual football tournament, and all public Lunar New Year celebrations in Macau. Disney has closed its parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises have suspended nine voyages leaving China from Jan. 25 to Feb. 4.  In Wuhan, all bus, subway, and ferry services have been suspended, and all outbound planes and trains canceled.

Hong Kong has raised its response level to the virus to “emergency,” and the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam said all large-scale events, including the Spring Festival and Lantern Festival, will be canceled.

The China Association of Travel Services reports that all tours, including international ones, are suspended as are domestic group and packaged tours. Naturally, this crisis is impacting meetings and conventions.

Dianne Davis, event producer for TulNet Meetings and Events, based in Tulsa OK, has a client who is part of an international annual conference that is being held in Orlando.

“There will be people in attendance from all across the world, including a contingency from China. She is considering canceling our participation in this conference. With the incubation period being up to 14 days, she is very concerned,” explains Davis. “Her biggest fear is being in a large crowd of international participants, upwards of 5000.”

As of January 28, the World Health Organization has not declared it a public health emergency of international concern, but that is not reassuring to many planners.

“Viruses are like earthquakes in a way. Right now, we have five confirmed cases in the United States. Tomorrow perhaps ten. And then those people infect others before they know they are sick and you have a nationwide crisis.  Earthquakes are worse
exponentially as the size of the quake affects a wider and greater area. I hope it doesn’t happen, but our world is full of ‘duty of care’ and ‘due diligence’ so why aren’t we at least having the conversation?” asks MaryAnne P. Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, Bobrow Associates, Inc., an association management company based in Citrus Heights, CA who has been involved with risk management issues for many years and advocates for detailed emergency preparedness plans to assist in getting through an emergency when one occurs.

“I see this as another risk management issue that needs addressing and a collection of the ‘right’ facts that will help groups prepare their meetings in case of such an
emergency,” she adds.

For more information, click here for a statement from the World Health Organization. Click here for symptoms to be on the lookout for. For prevention tips, click here.

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