Most countries are already experiencing the loosening of various COVID-19 related restrictions. The meetings industry has been waiting patiently and is finally starting to see the light of day. After allowing people to socialize again, visit cafes and restaurants, events were next in line. Most governments have already announced the dates for when events can commence again, you can follow the countdown with our L-DAY campaign. With public events on the horizon, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued key recommendations for event planners, organizing mass gatherings post COVID-19.
Mass gatherings will firstly be allowed in limited capacities, but nevertheless we will be able to host indoor and outdoor events yet again. To assist in organizing and holding events with the minimum risk of the COVID-19 infection spreading, WHO urges event planners to follow their recommendations. They highlight that in the context of COVID-19 mass gatherings are all events, categorized by the concentration of people at a specific location for a specific purpose over a set period of time that could amplify the transmission of the virus and potentially disrupt the host country’s response capacity.
The decision to hold any event should be taken based on a rigorous risk assessment exercise, tailored to the event. The risk assessment should be conducted by local and national public health authorities in conjunction with event organizers. The overall risk associated with a mass gathering event is the outcome of a process that incorporates the following three points:
- Normative and epidemiological context in which the event takes place
Look at the host country’s existing regulations on public health and social measures to control the spread of COVID-19, which reflects the intensity of transmission in the area. The risk assessment should reflect the host country’s adjustments to their public health and social measures.
- Evaluation of risk factors associated with the event
Make an appraisal of the likelihood that the event may contribute to the spread of COVID-19 and that the health services capacity may be exceeded by such a spread. Here all the key characteristics of the mass gathering event are examined to profile and quantify the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Areas that should be considered are:
- The characteristics of the event’s designated venue (location, size, type, indoor/outdoor, crowd density, etc.)
- The number and key characteristics of the expected participants in the event (age, health status, provenance, international/local travel to event, etc.)
- The expected interactions among participants occurring during the event (closeness of contact, etc.)
- The expected duration of the event
- The capacity of the host country’s health system to detect and manage cases of COVID-19 in terms of policies, resources, and capacities
- Capacity to apply prevention and control measures
Assess your ability to implement actions that can reduce the risks associated with the event. Prevention and control measures may:
- Modify the characteristics of the event (e.g. venue, attendees, facilities, equipment)
- Focus on the capacity of health and other relevant authorities and organizers to strengthen preparedness and response to a public health issue that occurs before, during, or after the mass gathering event.
Prevention and control measures can be applied throughout the event’s timeline – in the planning phase, the operational phase, and the post-event phase.
During the planning phase it is important to liaison with all relevant stakeholders. This establishes direct links and channels of communication between event organizers, health authorities, and other relevant authorities. Collaboration and coordination mechanisms should also be established among all stakeholders, partners, and constituencies involved in the event.
Because things don’t always go to plan it is imperative to develop a preparedness and response plan. Make sure the event plan is aligned with wider national emergency preparedness and response plans. Make provisions for detecting and monitoring event-related cases of COVID-19, reducing the spread of the virus, managing and treating ill persons, and disseminating public health messages specific to COVID-19 in culturally appropriate ways and in the languages of the event participants. Establish a clear line of command and control and enable efficient situation analysis and decision-making. Develop a risk communication strategy and a community engagement plan for the event to keep the public informed about the health situation, key developments, and any advice and recommended actions they should take.
Assess your capacities and resources and make provisions for human resources, ensure personal protective equipment and other medical material, set aside rooms for isolation, look at cleaning schedules, etc.
Prevention and control measures applicable during the operational phase pertain to modifications of the event. These can be related to the venue, such as hosting the event (at least partially) online, remotely, or virtually, holding the event outdoors, adjusting the official capacity of the venue, ensuring availability of handwashing facilities with soap and water or disinfectant dispensers. Furthermore, regular and thorough cleaning and disinfection of the venue should be ensured and the flow and density of people entering, attending, and departing the event should be regulated and monitored.
The modifications can also be related to the participants. You must advise people regarding physical distancing, cough etiquette, and hand hygiene practices. People with a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19 and those with a higher risk of developing a severe illness from COVID-19 should be advised to not attend the event.
Event modifications can also be made in terms of the duration of the event, simply by keeping it to a minimum to limit contact among participants.
Risk communication is an integral part of any post COVID-19 event. You must ensure the coordination and consistency of culturally appropriate and language-specific messages to the participants and the public and disseminate key messages in line with national health policies. These include visual reminders of basic preventative measures (physical distancing, cough etiquette and hand hygiene practices), on action steps for people developing COVID-19 symptoms, and on the recommended or required use of masks and other protective equipment.
Surveillance of event participants is vital in detecting and managing individuals developing symptoms during the event. Detection and management of event-related COVID-19 cases should be conducted in accordance with national policies and regulations and isolation facilities must be made available for participants who develop symptoms, accompanied with equipment for an initial assessment and triage by designated medical staff, and a plan for their transport to a health facility if needed. All arrangements should be made with national and local health authorities regarding diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 cases identified during the event.
After the conclusion of the event, communication between event organizers and health authorities should be upheld in case any participants or staff develop symptoms during the event. Individuals who develop symptoms upon returning to their home should be advised to contact public health authorities about their potential exposure and communication with local health authorities should ensure that systems are in place to detect cases arising in the local population as a consequence of the event. Also make sure to facilitate the sharing of information of event-related COVID-19 cases.
The overall risk of the event is the result of the assessment process that considers both the risk factors associated with the event and the capacity that health and other relevant authorities and event organizers possess to mitigate those risks through the adoption of preventative and control measures. Make sure to critically assess your risk in line with WHO’S recommendations before moving forward with your event.