Coronavirus Update: How Serious is This Threat to the Meeting Industry?

February 24, 2020

Coronavirus Update: How Serious is This Threat to the Meeting Industry?

The Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak has spiraled into a global threat.  As of Sunday there were 78,000 cases of Covid-19 in at least 29 countries, including a surging number of cases in Italy, Iran, and South Korea. Countries around the world have imposed travel bans, quarantine millions, and isolate sick people in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

So what does this really mean? How serious is this threat? And what will the future hold for all of us?

When global healthcare officials evaluate a novel viruses, two of the most important questions they ask are:

  1.         How contagious is the virus?
  2.         How deadly is the virus?


This coronavirus is contagious. This means it can be transmitted from one person to another. In fact, a person can transmit the virus without even having symptoms.Researchers currently believe one infected person generally infects two to more than three others.

When it comes to mortality or how deadly this virus is, we must evaluate this in relative terms.  The seasonal flu has a mortality rate of less than 0.1%. The H1N1 pandemic had a similar mortality rate. That means less than 1 person will die for every 1000 people infected.  The mortality rate for Covid-19 is much greater than this - 2%. This is 2000% greater than the seasonal flu. If you contract Covid-19 you have a 2% chance of dying. 

However, we have experienced novel viruses in the past two decades that have had much higher mortality rates.  The SARS mortality rate was 15% and MERS was 34%. That begs the question, why all the concern? In turns out that those two viruses were much less contagious than Covid-19. Therefore, Covid-19 poises a larger threat as a much greater number of people will be infected and the total number of deaths will be much higher than either SARS or MERS. 


What can we expect moving forward?

Public health experts are concerned and believe that the virus may grow into a pandemic. This outbreak might be much larger than it looks now, said Sylvie Briand, the director of infectious hazard management at the WHO, in a media briefing last Friday.

Italy is now home to the biggest Covid-19 outbreak outside of Asia: Some 132 people have confirmed infections including at least two deaths. The worrisome rise in cases in the country’s north has prompted authorities to impose severe measures in the attempt to contain the virus. 

World health officials are advising countries that they must move from trying to contain the virus to  preparing to handle the influx of patients. This means hospitals need to be ready with Covid-19 protocols, health care workers must have access to protective equipment, and countries need plans for maintaining supply chains and carrying on with travel and trade.

 Even a less severe pandemic still has the potential to overwhelm a country’s health system. The current data from China suggests as many as 5 to 10 percent of patients need care in an ICU, Many countries may not have enough beds or equipment to care for them, not to mention such care could cost billions.

In short, the meeting industry can expect the coronavirus to create more geographical disruption for meetings and coventions over the coming months. And this disruption will occur more frequently in places outside of Asia. Unfortunately, Covid-19  is not going away anytime soon and may have a greater human and economic impact than previously expected.

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