How the Coronavirus Outbreak Is Affecting Events Around the World

The rapidly spreading virus is wreaking havoc on China's event and tourism industry. Should U.S.-based event organizers be concerned?

Many long-planned Lunar New Year events—from Beijing to New York and Palo Alto—have been canceled in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected almost 25,000 people worldwide.
Many long-planned Lunar New Year events—from Beijing to New York and Palo Alto—have been canceled in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected almost 25,000 people worldwide.
Photo: Vladislav Vasnetsov/Pexels

As of Tuesday evening, the coronavirus outbreak has infected some 25,000 people worldwide and killed close to 500. While 99 percent of cases have been contained to mainland China, the virus continues to spread, with 11 cases currently reported in the United States. And in the midst of Lunar New Year celebrations, the outbreak has had devastating impacts on the event and tourism industries in China and its surrounding countries.

Here, BizBash takes a look at how international events have been affected, why planners should be checking their event insurance policies, how attendees can protect themselves, and more.

How is the coronavirus affecting events and the economy in China?
The outbreak has, unsurprisingly, had a huge (and growing) impact on the event scene in China, with last-minute cancelations ranging from Beijing’s massive Lunar New Year celebrations to the World Athletics Indoor Championship to conferences and meetings in all industries. Airlines including American Airlines and Air Canada have suspended flights in and out of China, while countries like the United States and Russia have implemented strict travel restrictions. Overall, experts predict that the economic impact may surpass that of the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, which accounted for a loss of almost $50 billion (U.S.) in tourism dollars.

In addition to losing money from tourism, hotel stays, and ticket sales, these event cancellations are also reportedly costing organizers some hefty sums. Just one example: An annual reception for Hong Kong stock brokerages, slated to be held February 5, was recently canceled; Gordon Tsui, chairman of the Hong Kong Securities Association, told the South China Morning Post that the last-minute change meant losing a deposit of almost $20,000 (U.S.)

In the wake of this uncertainty, the International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) is urging event organizers to check whether their insurance policies cover communicable diseases. In an email to IAEE members, Jack Buttine, president of Buttine Exhibition & Event Insurance, explained: "Cancellation insurance that includes communicable disease coverage can help organizers prevent loss of revenue due to exhibitors' or attendees' inability to travel to an exhibition because of the various travel bans and other issues that are a direct result of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.”

Buttine added: “It is important to note that communicable disease coverage can still be purchased to protect against outbreaks other than coronavirus. This particular outbreak illustrates the importance of having communicable disease coverage in place at all times."

Should events held in countries outside of China be concerned?
The outbreak also has other Asian countries, including Korea and Japan, closely monitoring the situation; even Milan Fashion Week, taking place in Italy later this month—is predicting a drop in revenue because of the absence of Chinese consumers as well as three Chinese fashion houses. And on Monday, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe said he is keeping in close touch with the World Health Organization to ensure the virus will not affect the Olympics, slated to be held in Tokyo this summer. Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto told ABC News that organizers plan to meet next week to discuss necessary measures. 

And while the danger to the United States is currently quite low, a slew of events—particularly those centered around the Lunar New Year holiday—have already been canceled. The annual holiday celebrates the beginning of a new year; it is typically marked by festivals, parades, and other celebrations that would draw a largely Chinese crowd.

“People are [being] extra careful,” Amanda Ma, the chief experience officer for Innovate Marketing Group—a Los Angeles-based company that has several Chinese clients—told BizBash. “Organizers are canceling or postponing their events due to safety and anticipate low attendance turnout, which they do not want as well. … Several Lunar New Year celebrations here in Los Angeles also have been canceled or postponed because people want to be cautious.”

The cancellations span from Northern California to Texas to New York City. And for some, the cancellation comes from a desire to be sensitive to the China-based crisis. “We couldn’t go on and have a party while there is still so much happening in China,” said Mark Zhao, the night manager of a Chinese supermarket in Queens that canceled its celebration, in an interview with the New York Times. “When things start to settle down we’ll consider it. Maybe next month.” 

Ma adds that many of her corporate clients have already implemented a travel ban. “And if they have anyone coming back from China, they have instructed for those folks to stay home for 14 days before they can actually go into the office,” she says. Those concerns about Chinese travelers are spreading to other events, too: In late January, Yale University ended its Yale Model United Nations conference, held on the Connecticut campus, early after a high-school student from China developed a cough and fever. (The student ultimately tested negative for coronavirus.)

But plenty of local events have continued as planned, including the 121st annual Golden Dragon Parade in Los Angeles on Saturday, which drew an estimated 110,000 people, on par with previous years.

How can event attendees protect themselves against the virus?
Andrew Bazos, managing director of CrowdRX—which has been delivering medical services for large events since 1989—thinks that U.S.-based gatherings should, for the most part, continue as planned. "In reality, this virus is not a threat to the United States at this time, nor is it anticipated that it will be,” he told BizBash, adding that the virus “at this time does not appear to be behaving in a way that is a high risk to cause mortality, except for in very compromised individuals.”

For domestic events, Dr. Bazos recommends following the same measures event organizers should take during a typical flu season. “I always remind our clients that in the United States alone last year, we had tens of thousands of people die from the conventional flu,” he notes, recommending that event attendees should always focus on frequent hand-washing and avoiding hand-to-mouth contact after any hand-shaking. 

Dr. Bazos does note that for some international meetings, his team has instituted extra screenings for fevers and additional questions for potential attendees. He has also advised EMTs, paramedics, and physicians to wear masks and gloves if exposed to an infectious disease setting. “There's a question of whether this virus is transmitted before you get symptoms—that's always a possibility,” he explains. “But if you restrict people that have had travel to the areas where the virus is prevalent in the past 14 days … it's a pretty high bar to have to climb over to have an attendee bring a virus to a large crowd. There are so many other risks inherent in mass gatherings.”

He continues, “Just take a deep breath and do the things you would do to avoid the flu during any winter season. Put faith in our healthcare system to move appropriately and quickly.”

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