WHO, what, how?

There’s been a lot of narrative in the events trade press about how trade events and “mass gatherings” might start operating post lockdown.

As the industry spends time debating the differentiation of events and lobbying authorities around the world to consider opening up the industry, much has been put on the emphasis on “what will the industry” will look like and not the “how to restart” the industry.

To assist, The World Health Organisation, WHO, has issued new guidelines for events on the 29th May which serves as an update of their interim guidance document on the implementation of public health and social measures (PHSM).

The WHO categorises  mass gatherings as events with a high density of individuals present in a venue for a defined period of time, which can amplify transmission of COVID-19, and place additional strain on a country’s healthcare system.

As the local epidemiology of the disease changes, countries are adjusting PHSM measures. As these measures are adjusted, event organizers need to apply a dynamic approach to mitigating risk to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in events.

So, what’s the WHO advice?

How large does a meeting or event need to be in order to be a “mass gathering”?

Trade events and conference can meet the WHO’s definition of a mass gathering i.e. an event attendance that is so large that it has the potential to strain the planning and response resources of the health system in the community where it takes place. As a result, organisers need to consider the location and duration of the event as well as the number of participants.

Should all mass gatherings be cancelled?

No. As each international mass gathering is different, the factors to consider when determining if the event should be cancelled may also differ.

Any decision to change a planned international gathering should be based on a careful assessment of the risks and how they can be managed, and the level of event planning. The assessment should involve all stakeholders in the event, and in particular the health authorities in the country or community where the event is due to take place.

What should organizers consider when assessing risk?

The priority consideration will be whether the event substantially increases the risk of the virus entering the country and becoming established.

In making this assessment, the organizers and their national or local health authorities should recognize that the risk of imported cases of COVID-19 is naturally linked to international travel. They should also recognize that it is neither realistic or desirable to aim for zero risk and should determine what is an acceptable risk and what additional measures should be implemented to mitigate the risks.

Should events arrange screening at venues?

Temperature screening alone, at exit or entry, is not an effective way to stop the spread, since infected individuals may be in an incubation period, may not express apparent symptoms not to mention the substantial investment needed for what may bear little benefits.

It is more effective to provide prevention recommendation messages to travellers and to collect health declarations at arrival, with travellers’ contact details, to allow for a proper risk assessment and a possible contact tracing of incoming travellers.

Should event organizers provide COVID-19 testing?

No, testing should be conducted in accordance with local health providers and national guidance. Anyone unwell or symptomatic should not be allowed to participate in the event.

Are there additional safeguards organizers can implement?

Follow standard preventative advice to the general public, including physical distancing.

Also promote:

  • signage, digital messaging to all participants and their entourages about COVID-19 and how to prevent infection
  • regular disinfection and cleaning of surfaces, in venues and in personal spaces
  • non-sharing of equipment and cleaning of equipment after each user.
  • Organizers are recommended to develop a checklist (include hand gels stations, hygiene facilities, etc.).

What are the risks arising from public transport?

The extra risk from participants travelling on public transport in a major city may not be significant compared to the ongoing risk to the local population using the transport all the time if physical distancing is not possible on public transport.

The WHO concludes: “Generally, events associated with a low or very low risk of Covid-19 transmission and low strain on the health system may be considered sufficiently safe to proceed.

If the risk of spreading Covid-19 remains significant after application of all control measures, postponing or cancelling the planned event should be considered”.

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