Fist-Bumping Will Have Its Moment Thanks To Coronavirus.
Event Africa Contributor 20/03/2020 COVID-19
As the world struggles to come to grips with COVID-19, business events have become one of the industries hit the hardest. Not only have major conferences and exhibitions in Europe and America been cancelled as a result of the outbreak, but Africa has begun to feel its effects, too. In February, an international conference to Cape Town was cancelled, and although events like WTM Africa and Africa’s Travel Indaba plan to proceed – albeit with caution – the continent waits with bated breath to see the devastating outcomes. Event Africa’s Kim Crowie and Musawenkosi Gebuza report.
Before we delve into the industry, let’s give you a quick history lesson. Coronaviruses were identified in the mid-1960s and are known to affect humans and animals, including birds and mammals. The latest iteration is caused by a novel coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2, formally renamed 2019-nCoV). Now known as COVID-19, it was identified amid an outbreak of cases in Wuhan City, China in December last year. On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global emergency.
Meetings Affected Indefinitely
Perhaps the most worrying part of the coronavirus scare is that we are encouraged to remain isolated. This affects all of the business events industry because face-to-face meetings are, in essence, our bread and butter. Initially, as Africa watched the rest of the world scramble, we thought the continent could even use this as a way to attract more meetings – until the first cases were found in Nigeria, Algeria, and finally, South Africa.
INSOL International Conference, set to take place at the CTICC this year, was confirmed cancelled on 3 March 2020. “As you can imagine, much deliberation has gone into making this difficult decision. However, the health and safety of our delegates around the world and staff is our priority,” CEO Jason Baxter and President Julie Hertzberg said in a statement.
Since then, several other conferences and events have either been postponed or cancelled – including ITB Berlin and GSMA’s Mobile World Congress. According to GSMA CEO John Hoffman, “The coronavirus outbreak has made it ‘impossible’ to hold the event.”
The Cape Town International Airport team have put a number of measures in place such as an increase in sterilisation. Protective gear for front line and passenger facing staff including the department of home affairs will be made available.
“I think the meetings industry as a whole is challenged by this,” says Gregg Talley, President and CEO of Talley Management Group, Inc. “If the only way to deal with this is to not have large-scale events, we in the live events industry have a challenge on our hands. That’s something we haven’t quite come to grips with, and, as an industry, it’s something we’d better grapple with and figure out what it really means for us. If this becomes part of our new normal, which scientists are telling us it is, we’re in trouble. We need to come together, and strategise how we’re going to defend and protect our industry in the face of this threat.”
How It Affects Africa
South African business events, in particular, have begun to feel the pinch as internationals from affected countries have been put on ‘house arrest’. SA Tourism on 6 March released a statement saying that, “It is having a growing impact on global and national economies, financial markets, business cycles and individual firms. This is no different for the tourism sector – with travel restrictions and the cancellation of many planned visits, flights and business events.”
WTM Africa has announced that it will continue in April with caution. “If you have any concerns that you may get caught up in an inbound or outbound quarantine, or are feeling unwell, you may want to reconsider your attendance at the event,” Reed Exhibitions states in their COVID-19 guidelines.
Nomakhaya Fekema, an Academic Programme Officer at African Institute for Mathematical Sciences SA has confided that their science forum has been cancelled, too. “We’re now in the process of cancelling our major science forum that was meant to be held on 9 March – 13 March 2020 which was expected to host about 2 500 delegates. This conference was meant to place Africa on a scientific pedestal and boost the economic state of the organisation.”
Although there is some promising research that potentially shows why Africa has remained largely unaffected from a health standpoint, it still has the potential to cripple the continent’s economy, production and even innovation in the near and far future.
“My thoughts are with the countries currently dealing with confirmed cases of COVID-19. What happens in one part of the world, ultimately affects us all. Already we are seeing a substantial drop in tourism and travel globally, with an expected 1.5% drop in international travel,” says Alderman James Vos, Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Economic Opportunities and Asset Management. “The tourism and hospitality sectors are vital to the economy of Cape Town. We work hard to attract visitors, both business and leisure tourists, so they spend time and money in our beautiful city, enabling job creation. I am comforted by the fact that this sector has proven to be resilient and that it can and will bounce back from the impact of this global pandemic.”
What We Should Be Doing
There are prevention protocols that have been put in place to ensure that South Africa in particular retains minimal to zero COVID-19 cases. Airports have activated their emergency control protocol to respond to the severity of the situation. This means focussing on detection, prevention, and protection. Currently, Port Health Officers, supported by the military, screen all international arriving passengers. Airports have also increased sterilisation, and protective gear for front line and passenger-facing staff will be made available.
Other African countries are following suit, with nations like Nigeria setting up committees that meet daily to monitor and assess how to deal with outbreak movements.
City Lodge Hotel Group has launched their own COVID-19 protocol across its 62 hotels, educating staff and guests, and introducing measures to ensure all remain safe in the face of this global health emergency.
Linda Pereira, CEO at L&I Communication Group, offered some poignant advice at Meetings Africa 2020: “COVID-19 is an enormous global crisis. We need visible initiatives, visible signs to say that we are fighting and we’re doing something. It is about being prepared, it is about working on prevention and a list of tactics that can be implemented in dealing with coronavirus. It’s not about reality but about perception.” She added that some of the practical things business events professionals can be doing right now include having doctors on site (and within sight), changing the way we greet one another (think fist bumps instead of hugs), and meet in bigger rooms with more space and air circulation.
Preventative Steps to Take
There’s nothing like being prepared to keep you safe – be sure to practice the steps below to avoid the spread of germs while you’re at a conference or exhibition. More information on www.who.int.
- Wash your hands frequently
Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub as it will eliminate the virus if it’s on your hand.
- Practice respiratory hygiene
When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – discard tissue immediately into a closed bin and clean your hands. This will prevent the spread of germs and viruses.
- Maintain social distance
Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people. When someone who is infected with a respiratory disease, like COVID-19, coughs or sneezes they project small droplets containing the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the virus.
- Avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth
Hands touch many surfaces which can be contaminated with the virus. If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your contaminated hands, you can transfer the virus to yourself.
- Seek medical care early
If you have fever, cough and or difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. Tell your health care provider if you have travelled in an area in China where COVID-19 has been reported, or if you have been in close contact with someone with who has travelled.
- Practice general hygiene measures with animal-related activities
Ensure regular hand washing with soap and potable water after touching animals and animal products; avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with hands; and avoid contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products. Avoid the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products, too.