Coronavirus Impacts Meetings

CoronavirusThe coronavirus or COVID-19 is a serious public health threat, said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a statement this week. If sustained transmission in the U.S. continues, mass gatherings will have to be canceled.

The death toll continues to grow at a rapid rate. The most recent number has the coronavirus death toll at over 2,700 worldwide, with the majority of those deaths in mainland China. There have been more than 80,000 global cases with infected people found on every continent except Antarctica. In Europe, the biggest outbreak is now in Italy.

What can meeting professionals do?  First, it is essential to stay educated. Candy Adams, The Booth Mom, Trade Show Consulting, recommends CNN’s site dedicated to the virus that is updated by the minute. It can be accessed here.

Adams has been researching all aspects of the virus a minimum of two hours a day since the conference she was slated to attend in Singapore was canceled. When Singapore moved its disease outbreak response to code orange, which requires event organizers to cancel or defer events, the conference was scrapped, and Adams’ non-stop research begun.

“Don’t take this story at first blush, it goes a great deal deeper,” she says. “I am not a conspiracy theory person, but too many things don’t add up with what China has put out.”

In China, aggressive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus are in place. Travel restrictions enacted in early February have played a role in keeping cases down in the U.S., said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a news conference, adding that there are no plans to ease the restrictions at this time.

“I do not believe in panic, but I do believe strongly in preparedness. The head-in-the-sand approach never works. I also don’t believe that engaging in preparedness activities is, as some people believe, fueling the panic.  All meeting professionals have a duty of care and engaging is best practices is part of that duty of care,” says MaryAnne P. Bobrow, CAE, CMP, CMM, Bobrow Associates

How do you prepare? It is important to develop a risk management plan, says Adams. “Have your communication ready if you have to pull the trigger,” she suggests. “It’s also important to know all of your contracts and start talking to vendors about the what-ifs. Need to know who is going to do what and when and how.”

The International Convention & English Language Expo is being held in Denver March 31 to April 3. “We have not had a major surge in cancellations beyond our attendees coming from Asia, but we are getting inquiries daily if we’re still holding the convention,” says Lisa L. Dyson, CMP, DES, director of conference services, TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) International Association. “Being cautious is a good thing, overreacting, and not meeting is not.”

She adds that it may be simple for corporations to suspend events, but the reality is that most associations can’t do that when it comes to their large conventions. “And at this point, cancellation insurance would not cover the loss if they did cancel,” she adds.

Promotional products are going to be impacted by the coronavirus as well as the Chinese supply chain has been disrupted. “Approximately 80 percent of exhibits that are not custom made come from China, not to mention promotional material. If you are planning on giveaways for an upcoming show, it is a good idea to order now when they are in supply,” offers Adams.

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