China Shutters Major Event 9 Hours Before Opening Due to Covid Outbreak

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TCT Asia, a major trade show, was shut down by Shenzhen authorities nine hours before it was set to open due to Covid numbers in the city creeping up to 24. Navigating policies and enforcements like this is a challenge for show and event planners, but it’s a reality that’s here to stay.

TCT Asia, a leading event for 3D printing and additive manufacturing, was all set to kick off on August 31 at Shenzhen World Exhibition and Convention Center when the show’s organizer, received a “Do Not Open” notice from Shenzhen authorities due to a rise in Covid numbers. This was nine hours before the show was set to open. 

The show was 99 percent built, according to Duncan Wood, CEO at Rapid News, and had 220 exhibitors. It was initially scheduled for May in Shanghai, but that was also canceled because of China’s enforcement of a strict zero-Covid policy.

“The reality of the situation is that there were just 24 cases recorded in the population of 18 million in Shenzhen on Tuesday,” said Wood.

Wood’s team is focusing on quickly finding a solution to this shutdown, something they’ve grown accustomed to during the pandemic as they have had to deal with cancellations, changes in venues, and the postponing of shows.

“We’ve learned to expect the unexpected, and what you thought you knew, you probably don’t,” he said. “Any show organizer around the world has become more resilient and used to fast-moving situations.” 

Throughout the pandemic, health authorities have canceled many shows at the last minute due to pandemic policies. “Of course, organizers have to follow the restrictions given by the relevant authorities wherever events are run, as we put the health of customers and colleagues first. We are a people industry,” said Mark Cochrane, managing director of BSG and regional manager in Asia of UFI, the Global Association of the Exhibition Industry. “At the same time, decisions like this have a devastating effect, for the specific show and its attendees, for the organizer and their staff, and our whole industry.”

He added that UFI, like many other associations, is advocating for a full reopening as events are essential for any economic and societal post-pandemic recovery. “Where uncertainty remains, people hesitate. Organizing a trade show is a major endeavor and investment, so organizers are looking for stability and reliability. If a destination cannot offer that, we see that shows are being relocated elsewhere for the time being, usually to another country,” said Cochrane. “As UFI, we hope that China — as one of our industry’s biggest global markets — will overcome these current issues as soon as possible and that the risk of cancellations like this one will be a thing of the past.”

Worrying Signs Across the World

The International Society for Microbial Ecology ISME18, took place in Lausanne, Switzerland in mid-August, and welcomed about 2,000 participants. Organizers are now dealing with the fallout from the rise of Covid cases reportedly associated with the event. The Covid policy stated that Canton de Vaud, where the event was held, had “no measures in place, and face masks are not required anywhere.” 

Organizers did though recommend the wearing masks and doing a self-test in case of symptoms, among other measures. Multiple photos of crowded parties and reports of a Covid spread surfaced on social media, prompting the organizers to release a statement addressing the controversy and assuring the members that improved safety measures would be in place for the next meeting in Cape Town.

Navigating fast-changing policies and restrictions across the globe is a challenge for show and event producers as they balance business and health priorities, but the reality is here to stay.

“In the coming months, organizers can expect to see a rise in cases, which correlates with the seasonal respiratory infections patterns,” said John Cordier, CEO of Epistemix, a data modeling company that creates simulations of virus spread. “The key is being able to right size the health and safety protocols and sometimes even find the right time and location of the event.”

Cordier adds that this fall, every person in the U.S. will probably know someone who is actively sick, which might add to the hesitancy to attend events, but the overall level of immunity is staying at a high percentage, which is going to result in Covid becoming the next flu.

“The increase in cases is to be expected but it will be what we’re managing year over year,” he says. “Covid is not going away just yet.” 

Photo credit: Shenzhen World Exhibition and Convention Center