Stu Freeman Stu Freeman

More uncertainty? That's for certain

Comment:

Near the beginning of the Covid-19 saga New Zealanders were told that the ‘go early – go hard’ policy would (among other things) give us time to prepare for future outbreaks without having to take such drastic measures again.

But the descent back into a Level 3 lockdown of Auckland in August, which looked almost identical to the one in March, except we were told to take an extra layer of protection in the form of face masks in certain environments, made me wonder whether the official approach to handling the virus has taken on any increased sophistication at all.

At various times in August it was repeated that measures such as the track and trace app, genome tracking, increased levels of testing and (again) facemasks were all positive advances that would reduce our need to lockdown. Ironically we were sometimes told this in the same press conferences where it was also announced we were heading into or staying in lock down.

 

Of course all of the new measures are impressive and on the face of it seem to be working and giving us an extra level of protection. But if we still also have to abide by the blunt instrument of  ‘stay home, stay safe, save lives’ it is fair to question whether the Government and Ministry of health believe their own publicity. How far we have actually progressed towards living with this virus over the past few months?

And lets make no mistake, we do have to live with Covid and be prepared for it to re-emerge in our communities – we are repeatedly told that by epidemiologists and other experts as well as by politicians.

From the outset of this pandemic, what the business events sector (in fact anyone involved in tourism, travel or public gatherings) really wanted was clarity and communication – the ability to at least try to plan while working within guidelines. Extra safety measures have been put in place and the industry has been at pains to emphasise that it has always been a model of tracking and tracing (registration tends to handle that).

So if the plan is to squash events of 10 or more as soon as Covid re-emerges, businesses need to know. They can then plan for that, even though the future would look grim.

Another scenario is that events are planned, booked, and promoted by organisers. Delegates book air travel and accommodation – transport and accommodation providers make the necessary arrangements, roster staff etc. Then, when community transmission is detected, the whole thing descends into the madness of cancelling, crediting, and refunding (again).

 

The plea for the industry to be given clear guidelines and to be able to hold the event if they stick to those guidelines feels like a cruel case of déjà vu. The allowance of 100 person business events (rather than the industry killing limit of 10) is a relief, but organisers have been asking all along to be given parameters rather than number limits.

Long before Covid, B2B exhibitions, conferences and meetings had a more complex and detailed approach to contact tracing than the measures put in place around public places even now. This was (and still is) due to Occupational Health and Safety compliance, event security and the commercial need to develop a comprehensive database of delegates and business partners who could be easily contacted.

This is done through pre-registration (or registration at the door in some cases), name tag or other identifying feature during the event, and recording of meetings within the meeting – traditionally through the passing of business cards but more and more via apps and other technology. The added layer of the official Covid QR code app will add even more security around this.

So the issue really comes down to social distancing and hygiene – some of New Zealand’s larger spaces and clearly take more than 100 people while still meeting the Covid heath and safety requirements.