The Asia-Pacific Association for International Education, headquartered in Korea, was supposed to bring 2,600 people from around the world to Vancouver in late March. The TED conference, with 2,000, was supposed to start April 20.
Both have now been rescheduled – the first to next spring, the second to July – because of uncertainty about the rapid spread of COVID-19, which was declared a pandemic Wednesday.
And Tourism Vancouver is in intense conversations with the planners of other events, with four major conventions slated between now and mid-June that are supposed to bring in more than 15,000 people for mining, tech-innovation and trade-skills student get-togethers. The prognosis for the Vancouver International Auto Show, slated for March 25-29, is still unclear.
“We are encouraging groups to postpone or re-schedule if they can,” said Ted Lee, the chief financial officer for the tourism organization.
Like many other business-oriented groups in B.C., Tourism Vancouver is scrambling to figure out where everything is headed and to form coalitions so organizations can exchange information and plan for the future.
That’s happening throughout the Lower Mainland, with officials stressing that, although things look relatively good in B.C. for now when it comes to COVID-19 containment compared to many other places, it’s impossible to predict what might happen tomorrow or the day after.
It’s not just tourism-related activities, such as cruise ships, hotels and restaurants, that will potentially be affected.
Everyone from the province’s trucking association to providers of services for homeless people to individual gyms and offices is rapidly gearing up to figure out what to do to slow down any spread of the disease in B.C.
Business groups are trying to assess the possible repercussions as travel slows to a crawl, events are cancelled, supplies from other countries slow and people generally retreat to their homes.
“This is going to have a profound effect on B.C.’s economy,” said Greg D’Avignon, the CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia. “It will probably take a few months to get supply chains going again. There’s going to be a risk around bankruptcies.”
His group has set up liaisons with the provincial government and with others on the U.S. West Coast to prepare for whatever needs to be done, although no one is quite sure what that might be yet.
In the meantime, everyone is on the edge of their seats, developing contingency plans and waiting to put them in place.
The province’s 70,000 commercial truck drivers are waiting to see how both port traffic and the general economy are affected.
“I am hearing that, at the end of this month, we will see a reduction of container traffic from China,” said Dave Earle, CEO of the BC Trucking Association. That will affect not just the 5 per cent of drivers who serve the port, but the whole economy, as supply chains slow down.
The ripple effects are also being felt by the many workplaces, shops and service providers throughout the city.
The Lagree West gym sent out an e-mail to all members saying they should stay away from classes for two weeks if they have been in contact with anyone who had travelled to seven specific countries.
Companies, from the head office of fashion chain Aritzia to architecture firms to small, independent shops, are asking people not to come in if they are at risk, or to sign forms saying they haven’t visited any affected countries recently.
“We will not see clients in the office if they have recently arrived from certain countries for two weeks after arrival,” said Hassan El Masri, a notary.
Shelter and social-housing providers, along with those who work among people living on the streets, are bracing for an outbreak among their very vulnerable populations. Shelter operators are getting regular updates from health authorities and working on quarantine protocols, said Jill Atkey, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, which just sent out a guidance e-mail to all its members.
"If the spread does escalate, we’ll need to face that. Shelters are going to be an issue,” she said.
“This is really a challenge for people without homes. If there’s a need to quarantine, how do you do that?”
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