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Virus Fear Postpones Boston Seafood Show, Natural Products Expo West

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By John Saulnier, FrozenFoodsBiz Editorial Director

Seafood Expo North America has joined a lengthening list of trade fairs around the world that are being or have been postponed due to worries and uncertainty surrounding the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The March 15-17 event, which until now has run annually in Boston during that month without interruption since 1980, has been called off. The decision followed New Hope Network’s postponement of Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, California, which was slated to run from March 3-7. Both organizers hope to reschedule the exhibitions later this year.

Spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China in December of 2019 but was not officially announced until January 11, and has since been attributed to the deaths of at least 3,173 people (of which 2,981, or approximately 94% occurred in the PRC) and 92,534 confirmed infections in nearly 80 countries and territories (80,270 in mainland China), is having a tremendous impact on social gatherings as well as health around the globe. On a positive note, according to figures issued by China’s National Health Commission (NHC) and state media, 50,691 people have recovered from the sickness thus far.

Already in January, postponement until further notice of all trade shows and exhibitions in China was ordered as the central government scrambled to organize efforts to contain and staunch the spread of the pneumonia-like respiratory illness. In Europe, the scheduled February 24-27 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, which ranks as the world’s largest annual telecom industry gathering, was cancelled. The decision was made after a number major exhibitors bowed out earlier in the month.

This week, as organizers of Natural Products Expo West and Seafood Expo North America saw the handwriting on the wall and listened to the amplified voices of concern from exhibitors and visitors opting out of their events, the time for action had arrived.

Diversified Communications, which attracted more than 22,000 visitors and 1,320 exhibitors from 49 countries to the Boston show last year, posted the following notice at its website on Tuesday:

“We heard from those of you who were concerned about health, safety and travel restrictions, and given the short time before the scheduled event date, and upcoming logistics, we have determined that postponement at this time is unavoidable. We are committed to finding a solution to deliver an event in North America [later] this year, to ensure business continuity to the seafood industry. Details on when and where will be communicated directly with our customers in the next month. Depending on date and location availability, the event might look slightly different for 2020, but will continue to provide the opportunities to connect suppliers and buyers in the industry.”

For the moment Diversified, which also organizes the Seafood Expo Global/Seafood Processing Global set for April 21-23 in Brussels, Belgium, has no plans to postpone that event. Its last update on the show, issued on February 25 by Group Vice President Liz Plizga, was as follows:

“We understand there are concerns and questions around the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in relation to the event and would like to reassure you that the health and safety of our exhibitors, attendees and staff are our priority…We are working with the venue and local authorities responsible to assess risks and protocols and following the WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations on actions to be taken around the Covid-19. Based on their guidance, Diversified Communications will implement the most effective additional preventive measures as necessary.”

The organizer of Natural Products Expo West, which was expecting approximately 86,000 visitors and more than 3,600 exhibitors, posted this notice at its website:

“As we stated in our postponement announcement, New Hope –with the support of our parent company, Informa – intends to work with all our exhibitors and attendees on future credits and support, with a particular focus on the many exhibiting entrepreneurs and small businesses who are the heartbeat of this community and for whom we are going to stand up a fund of $5 million targeted at their specific needs. We are working through what this will look like for each of our exhibitors or attendees, and we are committed to listening to you as we determine next steps.”

Other Shows and Conferences Go Forward

Elsewhere on the international trade show and conference front, the March 3-5 North Atlantic Seafood Forum in Bergen, Norway, billed as the “world’s largest seafood business conference,” kicked off without a hitch. So did the Hotel, Restaurant & Catering (HRC) foodservice show in London, which is also scheduled to run for three days through March 5.

Meanwhile, the latest advice issued by the World Health Organization is more about mental health than physical wellbeing. The UN agency is warning that “incorrect” words and language may hurt feelings and fuel stigmatizing attitudes. In an effort to combat the “stigma” around coronavirus, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has released a document that cautions those who associate Covid-19 with “China,” “Wuhan,” or “Asia” to be more aware of the sensitivities of people.

Remarkable advice indeed, coming from an organization that waited until January 30, following mounting criticism and growing international concern, to designate the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak in China as a global emergency. It wasn’t until March 1 that it upgraded it contagion’s global risk to the level of “very high” following increases of deeply concerning cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea.

The WHO, in calling for $675 million to help fund the ongoing battle against Covid-19, says there “is a window of opportunity to contain the spread of the virus if countries take robust measures to detect cases early, isolate and care for patients, and trace contacts.”

Director General Tedros stated: “The potential spread of the virus to countries with weaker health systems is one of our biggest concerns. These funds will help support these countries get ready for detecting and isolating cases, protecting their health workers, and treating patients with dignity and appropriate care. This will help us save lives and push back the virus.”

By all means, let’s get the job done!