Travel has been restricted for millions in China, as government and health officials work to halt the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which has sickened hundreds and killed dozens in China. The situation is rapidly evolving and shifting, say officials with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The new virus has caused an emergency in China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), but the agency declined on Thursday to designate the virus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The CDC has recommended that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Hubei Province, China, including Wuhan, a city of 11 million, where the virus originated.
Still, much is unknown about the virus. Erica Seo, head of sales for the Asia Pacific region for Pacific World, a global destination management company, reported Monday that there had been no changes to the company’s planned programs in China. “Having said that, we are prepared that it may affect confirmed events we have in China, depending on the development of the virus,” she said via email.
To help determine how best to be prepared, business events professionals can find a list of resources created by PCMA.
Convene also revisited an interview with Joan L. Eisenstodt, the principal of Washington, D.C.–based Eisenstodt Associates LLC and one of the industry’s leading experts on risk management, conducted during the outbreak of the Zika virus in 2016, which also created uncertainty. We adapted Eisenstodt’s advice for event planners as follows:
- “If you’re contracted with venues and vendors in countries where there has been a warning, look first to your crisis plan to see where this fits,” she said. Talk with your attorney, she said. “It is uncertain whether ‘warnings’ from the CDC fall under force majeure and/or impossibility clauses.”
- If you do not have a plan, consider the impact warnings on your meeting and to those attending. “Talk with your attorney and with your insurance carrier about the long-term impact of the decisions you make,” she said. “I can imagine lawsuits if someone attends a meeting, and the group didn’t [pass along warnings] and offer opt-outs.” (In the case of the Coronavirus, airline carriers and hotel chains are offering free cancellations or refunds for travel planned to Wuhan, China.)
- The virus has been detected in a number of countries outside of China, including the U.S. Consider the steps you will take if someone at one of your meetings shows flu-like symptoms; the CDC has communicated with state and local health departments about what protocols to follow.
“The big issues are legal — canceling a meeting and contracts — versus the safety of people,” Eisenstodt told Convene. “In risk management, we always teach that people come first and their safety comes first.”
PCMA has created a Coronavirus web page to help event professionals find reliable information about the outbreak and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared.