Coronavirus fears prompt rescheduling of ECR 2020 to July

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Fears over the outbreak of novel coronavirus have prompted the organizers of the European Congress of Radiology (ECR) to call off its meeting scheduled for next week and reschedule it for mid-July in Vienna. The move raises questions about whether other medical shows will go forward just as the spring conference season is beginning.

The European Society of Radiology (ESR) decided to postpone the congress after careful evaluation of the facts about the growing COVID-19 epidemic and the recent statements issued by the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. It also took account of the evolving worldwide crisis and restrictions on travel and major events.

These are turbulent and challenging times, said Prof. Boris Brkljačić. Image courtesy of the ESR.These are turbulent and challenging times, said Prof. Boris Brkljačić. Image courtesy of the ESR.

"Above all, we have analyzed the recommendations from the Austrian health authorities for large-scale events and came to the conclusion that we are not in a position to fulfill their requirements and guarantee a safe congress for our participants and industry partners at this time," stated ESR President Prof. Boris Brkljačić in a statement sent to all ESR members on March 3. "The safety, health, and well-being of our delegates and partners will always be the highest priority for the ESR."

The July meeting will be a fully equivalent replacement for the planned event that had been scheduled for March 11-15, and registration fees for the event and the online services will remain in place for the new congress dates. Registration for ECR 2020 remains open, he explained.

Full details on the refund policy will be published soon, according to a source at the ESR.

"Regarding flights and hotels people have booked on their own, they have to approach their airlines and hotels. With the official statement on our website regarding the postponement ... refunds should be possible," the source told in an email. "Regarding people who have booked via our travel service, we are currently in negotiations."

If ECR attendees are unable to make the July dates, it is unclear yet whether they will receive a refund on registration fees paid.

Busy summer period

The new dates in July fall at a relatively quiet time for medical congresses but at a busy period for families and sports fans. Mid-July marks the start of the school holiday season across Europe, while the British Open golf championships will take place from July 16 to 19 and the Summer Olympics are scheduled to start in Tokyo on July 24. Also, July 14 is Bastille Day in France.

The ESR is hoping the COVID-19 outbreak will be firmly under control by the summer. The situation in China appears to have stabilized over the past two months, although experts have warned that it could take around 10 months to develop a vaccine.

Last month the organizers issued an upbeat press release about ECR 2020, stating that attendance could reach an all-time high. Registration figures for onsite participation showed around 1,000 more registered attendees this year than at the same time point in 2019, the ESR said.

However, the decision to postpone ECR looked increasingly likely last week, when Italian, Swiss, and French governments outlawed large public gatherings and the virus reached the Austrian capital. By the morning of March 3, there were nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Vienna, making a total of 21 in Austria, according to the Vindobona Vienna International News service.

Striking a positive note

Brkljačić, who is a professor of radiology and vice dean at the University of Zagreb School of Medicine and chair of the department of diagnostic and interventional radiology at University Hospital "Dubrava" in Zagreb, Croatia, was determined to end his statement on a positive note.

"We would like to express our sincere thanks to our participants and industry partners for their understanding, continuous support, and flexibility. The majority of our industry partners have already expressed their ongoing commitment and are fully on board for ECR 2020 in July," he wrote. "Please rest assured that in these turbulent and challenging times, the entire ESR and ECR team are doing their best to respond to any query at the earliest possible time and to make ECR 2020 a spectacular and memorable event for all."

While ESR's move resolves questions about the status of next week's meeting, it comes as the spring conference season is heating up in healthcare, with many other shows still scheduled to take place. Organizers of these meetings are sure to be taking note of the ESR's actions -- as well as the status of the coronavirus outbreak -- in determining whether to go ahead with their own meetings.

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