On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern since more than 31,000 people have been diagnosed with the Coronavirus, and more than 600 people have died. With countries across the globe banning flights to and from China, the coronavirus is affecting the meeting and events industry in a big way.
To help industry professionals understand the virus and protect themselves, their organizations, and their attendees, we’ve created this guide to everything meeting and event professionals need to know about the coronavirus. This also may be good information to share with your attendees or stakeholders if you feel your event is at risk, so feel free to pass it along!
What is the Coronavirus?
On January 30, the a family of viruses that include the common cold, SARS and MERS. The current coronavirus is called the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The outbreak has been linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China, which suggests the virus can spread through animal to person and person to person.
How is the Coronavirus Spread?
The CDC reports that there is a lot still unknown about how the 2019-nCoV, the new coronavirus, spreads. What is currently known about how the virus spreads is based on other coronaviruses. The virus can be transmitted by:
- Person-to-person spread (6 feet)
- Air by coughing and sneezing
- Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
- Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands (the virus lives on surfaces for 3 to 12 hours).
- Rarely, fecal contamination
What are the Coronavirus Symptoms?
The CDC reports that at this time it believes symptoms of 2019 nCoV may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure. This is based on what has been seen previously as the incubation period of MERS viruses. Symptoms to watch out for include:
- Shortness of Breath
How to Prevent Coronavirus
The WHO recommendations for the general public to reduce exposure to, and transmission of, a range of illnesses, including the coronavirus, are:
- Frequently clean hands by using antibacterial hand wipes, hand sanitizer gels, or soap and water
- When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissues away immediately and wash hands
- Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough
- If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider
- When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals
- The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.
- If you were in China in the last 14 days and feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, you should:
- Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms.
- Avoid contact with others (this includes staying home from work)
- Not travel while sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to avoid spreading the virus to others. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
What if an Attendee Presents Coronavirus Symptoms?
Should anyone of your event attendees present symptoms during or after your business event, you should contact the local, national, and international public health departments and agencies for protocol advice.
Just as importantly, you must remain calm. Gloria Guevara, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) said, “Containing the spread of unnecessary panic is as important as stopping the virus itself.” Guevara continues in a late January statement that “quick, accurate and transparent communication is also crucial in order to contain panic and mitigate negative economic losses. Previous cases have also shown us that closing airports, cancelling flights and closing borders often has a greater economic impact than the outbreak itself.”
What Travel Restrictions are in Place?
Throughout China, travel has been widely restricted. Transport, including air, train, and buses, in and out of the city of Wuhan has been suspended. In addition, China has suspended flights, hotel sales for citizens and tour groups.
In addition to China, the rest of the world has placed travel restrictions in place to protect its people against the coronavirus. We’ve researched the restrictions and created a table of the most recent restrictions below.
How is the Coronavirus affecting Meetings or Events?
Many planned meetings and events in and around China and Asia have been recently canceled or relocated either because of travel restrictions or concerns of attendees catching the virus.
Some planners are even canceling or relocating events that are happening a year from now. Beau Ballin, North America commercial leader for CWT Meetings & Events said, “We are seeing direct impacts on programs that travel to or through China—even programs a year away. Just yesterday, one of our clients made the difficult decision to move the destination for its 2021 program in Bali, Indonesia, as a result of most flights routing through Hong Kong.”
If you want to cancel your event, check your attrition clauses located in the contract with your venue.
3 Ways to Host a Meeting or Event with the Coronavirus
1. Livestream Your Event
If you choose to relocate your event, some attendees still might not be able to attend because of travel restrictions from the coronavirus. To ensure you don’t lose attendees to the coronavirus, livestream your relocated event. Attendees can register online for your livestreaming event, attend your events workshops and sessions, and even participate in polls. Before your event, make sure you test your equipment so the day of broadcast you can confidently livestream your event.
2. Host Virtual Meetings
Although one of the things that make live meetings and events so valuable is that they allow people to meet face-to-face, when something like the coronavirus prevents that from happening, virtual meetings are a good alternative. Instead of canceling their meetings or events altogether, planners can host virtual meetings and decrease travel expenses by 30 percent. If you don’t already have a virtual meeting platform, check out these top ten online meeting platforms.
3. Increase Your Medical Security
Whether you’re hosting an event in a high-risk coronavirus area or simply want to ease coronavirus fears, increases your event’s medical security by building a solid crisis communication plan is key. But what are the ingredients to a great crisis communication plan? We’ve researched and outlined them below.
- Organize a dedicated management or emergency management team. Because your event staff will be the first responders during a crisis at your event, like a potential coronavirus case, having a dedicated crisis management team will elevate your event’s disaster preparedness to another level. This team will be laser-focused on making sure that your crisis plan is executed seamlessly when needed. You can also hire health professionals to be on-call at your event, stock your event with masks, gloves, and coronavirus testing kits.
- Collect emergency data from attendees. The volume of data that events, meetings, conferences, and trade shows produce and collect is increasing as more organizations become data-driven. If permitted by attendees, planners can use this data during crises to identify attendees and access important medical information (e.g. medical conditions, allergies to medications, etc.) to ensure they receive the safest, best care.
- Use push notifications through your mobile event app to communicate with attendees. Onsite communication is very important, both amongst event staff and with attendees, especially when potential cases of the coronavirus are a possibility at your event. Sending personalized push notifications directly to attendees’ cell phones is a great way to stay in constant contact with them and help them feel like they are up to date on everything that is happening at your event.