Having declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) have so far reported more than 266,000 cases and 11,184 deaths (as of 21st March 2020). Worryingly, this is rising by the day. COVID-19 is proving a significant challenge for the entire world with cases across 183 countries so far.
The coronavirus outbreak is having a significant impact on a wide range of businesses across the world but has been particularly devastating for hospitality and events, with thousands of gatherings being cancelled until further notice and redundancies in the industry widespread. The disruption is unlike anything we have seen post-war.
The recent support package by the government is a welcome attempt to lessen the blow. But for the events industry, is it enough to see companies through? The losses to businesses are huge. The event industry is lobbying for the UK government to offer more economic support to businesses and individuals in this sector. The crisis is unprecedented and will be felt in the events industry for many months, or even years, after the virus has passed.
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the current coronavirus (COVID-19), have made the jump to humans. Most cause cold-like symptoms, but Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and the current COVID-19 strains are much more severe.
The majority of people who catch the virus only experience mild symptoms, but so far, according to a recent report in The Telegraph around 20 per cent of confirmed cases have been classed as severe or critical.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of coronavirus are fever, cough, tightness in the chest, headaches, shortness of breath, chills and body aches. In more severe cases, the virus can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, organ failure and even death.
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system, so people with poor immune function or those on immunosuppressant drugs are more at risk.
Antibiotics do not work, as this is viral (antibiotics are only effective in treating infections of bacterial origin).
The coronavirus story so far
On 31st December 2019, the Chinese authorities notified the World Health Organisation of a pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan City. This was later classified as a new disease: coronavirus or COVID-19.
The source of this disease is thought to have been a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan, where both live and dead animals are sold. Hygiene standards are difficult to maintain because some livestock is butchered on-site. The original host of the disease is unknown, but it is thought to be from bats or pangolins.
A month later, on 30th January 2020, WHO declared the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
On 11th March, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic.
It is impossible to say what will happen next but, on its current trajectory, it is likely to spread to more countries, affecting many more people.
Technology is changing the face of events during the crisis
The world of events is on hold. The gathering of people has been banned in most countries affected. Even those without official bans are seeing huge cancellations from potential attendees concerned about catching the virus.
So what can the events industry do?
Everyone is hoping that at some point, in the not too distant future, that normality will return and people will once again be venturing out to socialise and meet up. In the meantime, the events industry must look to technology to innovate and adapt.
There are already some fantastic software solutions, such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
Events professionals excel at getting people to join in and will need to learn to utilise these skills in an online format for the time being.
The web conferencing platforms can be used by anyone, but not everyone has the skillset to arrange effective online networking. After all, anyone can book a hall and send out invitations, but it takes great skill to create an exceptional event.
The way that people communicate is temporarily changing, but this is where events companies must now concentrate their efforts.
While nothing can take the place of a real-life event, we are in unprecedented times. Until we can get back to business as usual, here are some of the video conferencing platforms that are suitable for enabling large events online:
Zoom – offers cloud video conferencing, simple online meetings, and group messaging in one easy-to-use platform. It can support up to 1,000 participants at the same time!
BlueJeans – suitable for up to 150 participants, this popular video conferencing platform is renowned for its high-quality streaming.
Microsoft Teams – this cloud-based application developed for business communications helps manage chat, meetings and more, and is suitable for large meetings, webinars, presentations and company-wide events for up to 10,000 attendees.
WebinarJam – hassle-free, no-download web conferencing software enables team members from all over the world to connect in a browser-based room, with the ability to live chat and bring viewers onto the virtual stage. The Premium Plan grants you up to 6 presenters per webinar, 5000 attendees per webinar, and 4 hours max duration.
MegaMeeting – is a web-based platform enabling multi-party video conferencing for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as long as Adobe Flash is installed. This is a great option for large-scale events.
CiscoWebex – With the outbreak of COVID-19, this conferencing service is offering free unlimited usage and support for up to 100 participants. Competitively priced plans offer a platform for hosting an online event for up to 200 people.
Google Hangouts – a popular tool for staff meetings, G-suite customers can now access its advanced Hangouts Meet video conferencing, which can support 250 participants on a call, and live-stream for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain.
Will there be a silver lining?
Over the past decade, the way we work has been changing. An increasing number of workers seek flexibility in hours and many do some, or all, of their work from remote locations or from home.
This trend has been accelerated massively in recent weeks, as businesses comply with social distancing guidelines and set up employees to work remotely.
While the events industry will undoubtedly reel from the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, the way we work (i.e. more from home) will likely remain, especially since it was heading that way anyway. Coronavirus is acting as a catalyst for remote working to become the norm.
When the storm of COVID-19 is over, events will become an even more critical aspect of keeping the workforce connected.
With pent-up demand for socialising and networking, events companies will see sunshine again.