With cases of the coronavirus, COVID-19, rising in the UK and several large events in Europe having been cancelled, including Mobile World Congress, Facebook’s F8 and London Book Fair, events professionals are considering the risks associated with the virus and are planning accordingly.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency and the UK Chief Medical Officers have raised the risk to the UK from low to moderate. However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that the Government is not currently recommending the cancelling of large events.

Hugh Brasher, event director of Virgin Money London Marathon, released the following statement in response to questions about whether the 40th edition of the mass participation event would still go ahead: “We are monitoring closely the developments relating to the spread of COVID-19 and noting the updates and advice given by the UK Government, the World Health Organisation and other UK public bodies.

“The Government’s current advice is that all mass events should still go ahead. There are many mass events scheduled in the UK before us and we are working closely with the DCMS (the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and other mass event organisers to coordinate and agree appropriate advice to the public.”

Government advisors have reported that there is no clear rationale for cancelling or closing events to prevent the spread of the virus, as the Swiss and French Governments have done, and a number of events professionals have commented on the outbreak.

Jim Davey, managing director of Redwood Event Solutions, told Stand Out: “I have spoken with a number of organisers, colleagues and insurers and clearly, everyone is worried. I have also chatted with colleagues who have ongoing concerns in China. Naturally, they have been affected.

“However, taking the Olympics as a marker, if that event is not able to be delivered then it would be harder for events in the UK not to go the same way.

“If schools were shutting and publicly-funded buildings were closing then it would be hard for us as an industry to open a field and invite everyone in to have a good time.

“Thankfully, the International Olympic Committee has said that Tokyo 2020 will go ahead. That leaves me hopeful.”

Davey confirmed that no clients have contacted him nor asked him to look at contingency plans. He also said that as an events professional, it is his job to look at risk and establish the facts, which is something that all responsible organisers and contractors should be doing regardless.

Chris Norman, CEO of Visions Group, concurred with Davey – sensible advice needs to be sought and taken. He commented: “Some people are cancelling their events and making decisions based on what they have read in the mainstream press and are not listening to the facts and medical advice.

“Some people are using coronavirus as a reason to cull expenditure on some events that have perhaps become too financially extravagant. It was exactly the same when the financial crisis hit – people can’t be seen to be spending on events.

“I am fed up with people not listening to the advice being given.”

WHO has released a document with advice for those planning large events, or mass gatherings, in light of the current outbreak. Key points for organisers are to promote good hygiene, including providing relevant advice and information online and in event guides, to provide washing stations with soap and hand sanitiser, and to have a procedure in place should anybody present with symptoms upon arrival at or during an event.

In a statement, the organiser of IMEX Frankfurt has confirmed that it is continuing to plan confidently for the show, which takes place from May 12-14.

“We currently have no plans to postpone or cancel our show despite some major events cancelling across Europe in the past few days,” the statement read. “This unprecedented situation is changing daily so we remain watchful but also focused on delivering what is an extremely important event.

“Mindful of our duty of care we are carefully considering and consulting with experts on what the appropriate sanitary, health and other measures should be and can assure our industry that all appropriate measures will be in place at the show.”

Like Norman and Davey, IMEX has commented on the damage that scaremongering could have. Everyone needs to remain positive and listen to advice.

Ray Bloom, IMEX Group chairman, said: “We know that the negative long-term impact of speculation, hype and over-reaction will be damaging not just to our industry, but also to your local communities and business as a whole.

“We feel strongly that it is our collective responsibility to focus on the facts and to act with common sense and sound judgement, taking the advice of the relevant authorities and scientists. We’re aware that there’s a lot of speculation and hype surrounding the impact of Covid-19 globally and that it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction. We agree with our friends at ICCA – in general, it is good practice in situations like these to stay calm, communicate responsibly and follow official health and travel advice.”

Insurers are recommending including reference to the coronavirus in risk assessments as companies have a legal duty to provide a safe working environment for their staff. Plus, they are pointing organisers towards WHO guidance on good hygiene practices.

Tim Rudland, associate director, entertainment and sport of Tysers, the event industry insurance specialist, commented: “Coronavirus is certainly a hot topic. In the UK, it is business as usual and the UK Government has not said that events should be cancelled.

“In terms of insurance, every policy is different and you cannot buy insurance to protect against coronavirus because it is a known circumstance.

“As an industry, we have to remain positive. Fear of something is no reason to cancel and visitors’ disinclination to attend your event is not a good enough reason to cancel either. It is all dependent on the wording in your policy so ring your insurance provider for advice on what is and isn’t included.”

Caroline Clift, editor of Stand Out magazine, said: “It is clear that coronavirus and the impact that it could have on UK events and festivals is on the agenda. We have talked to many organisers and suppliers regarding the virus. Naturally, it is a concern, yet events professionals are more frustrated. It appears that national media channels and general clickbait are causing organisations to cancel events more through fear, not fact.

“People need to listen to the advice from the experts. By no means are we suggesting that event industry professionals should not be aware of coronavirus and make contingency plans, but we are a resilient industry that makes big decisions regarding public safety based on risk assessments and fact – coronavirus should be no different. Listen to the advice of the experts, plan accordingly and let’s be sensible.”

Stand Out magazine will continue to update the industry as and when new advice is released. Please continue to check the website for news and relevant analysis.

Also, if you have a story or opinion to share regarding coronavirus, contact the editorial team. Email editorial@standoutmagazine.co.uk