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Issue 6056

BREATH OF FRESH AIR - Optimism as BBE research released

FAIR OR FOUL? - Tim Mutum on Alex Owen and Besses' historic result shock


Opinion: Coronavirus: time to hold your breath?

Friday 6 March, 2020

Coronavirus – could it affect the European Championships? Martin Gernon examines the current state of affairs as the virus continues to spread.

The coronavirus outbreak is now affecting every region of the world, except for Antarctica, and national governments are quite correctly taking major precautions against its rampant spread. Europe has been badly affected to date. In writing this article on March 4, 650 new cases were recorded in Europe with 19 deaths in one day alone.

The UK government recently issued stark projections claiming that at its peak, the virus could quarantine or self-isolate 20 per cent of the population. The Times newspaper projects that up to 80 per cent of Scotland’s population could be affected. The Swiss authorities have axed the Geneva Motor Show and banned events that have a gathering of more than 1,000 people. The Six Nations Championships have been affected with the Ireland v Italy match, originally scheduled for this weekend, postponed. The Paris Book Fair is cancelled and France has instigated a ban on large gatherings of more than 5000 people. The ITB tourism fair in Berlin, one of the biggest events of its type, has also been cancelled, while the Frankfurt Musikmesse is one of the latest casualties, postponed until further notice. Travel bans to affected areas are now coming into force and airlines are drastically reducing their routes and timetabling.

This is a virus that is reaching every corner of public life and shows no sign of slowing down. With a mortality rate of two to three per cent, the longer-term implications are potentially enormous.

The Department of Health in the UK categorised the pandemic as a ‘level four’ emergency – the highest category level. Other European countries are doing the same. A projection by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that for every confirmed case reported, it estimates a further 60-70 cases still to be reported, due to the virus’ relatively long incubation period of up to three weeks and affected patients with mild symptoms carrying on life as normal, thinking it is no more than a common cold. Given this stark projection, Europe currently has around 3400 confirmed cases which could mean a further potential 200000 cases unreported or still to be reported.

The two most alarming facts about the coronavirus are there is no vaccine yet and people who have had the infection and recovered are still able to re-contract the virus, making the network of containment hugely difficult, if not impossible. The biggest source of spread is travel, whether internationally, locally or just commuting. The inevitable daily movement of people around the world is the largest single factor in the spread of this virus.

So, where in practical terms does this leave the European Championship in Palanga at the end of April, attracting visitors worldwide? The truth is it is too early to say. EBBA issued a statement last week confirming it was monitoring the situation with the authorities. In conversation with EBBA president, Ulf Rosenberg, this week, he confirmed that plans were still going ahead unchanged for the running of the event and he saw no need to change or alter anything unless advised to do so by the relevant authorities, those authorities being the Lithuanian local or national government or travel or health sanctions put in place by other European governments or authorities.

It would be a disaster for Palanga, EBBA and the brass banding public should the European not go ahead. The international diary is so congested that postponement is virtually an impossibility and so 2020 would not have a European Championship. Palanga’s aim to be the first Baltic state to host the European would not happen for some years due to forward planning commitments with other countries, but we are someway yet from that doomsday scenario.

Let’s explore, however, the possibilities between now and the end of April, seven weeks away.

Firstly, the European is about the bands. Most bands will have paid deposit monies for travel and hotels, with balances to pay closer to travel time. Most may have taken out travel insurance, others perhaps not. The travel insurance debate as to who is covered because of coronavirus differs from country to country. In the UK, the latest advice indicates that travel insurance for  bookings will only be valid if the destination has been identified by the Foreign Office with a warning against travel. Those who wish to cancel their travel arrangements because of a general fear or concern for travelling to areas not identified with a warning against travel are currently not covered. For example, Lombardy and Veneto in Italy are on the Foreign Office list of warnings against travel, so would be covered. Rome is not on the list, so wouldn’t be covered. When it comes to specific event cancellation, travel insurance policies become even greyer. Say a destination was deemed safe to travel to, for example Paris, but you are travelling to visit a particular event or conference. If the event is cancelled, unless it’s a package tour to the event, travel insurance mainly becomes invalid. Our advice to any band travelling to the Europeans is to check your policy now and make sure you are covered.

The odds of players in competing bands contracting the virus or meeting infected people are shortening by the day. Bandspeople are from all walks of life and there is no rationale as to why they would be more or less prone to infection than anyone else. Should a player become infected, or even be suspected of infection, periods of quarantine and self-isolation are now mandatory. If this happens two to three weeks before the event, this will effectively rule out a band from travelling or attending. What would happen to a band’s preparation and rehearsal routine between now and the end of April if such a thing happened?

What of the audience and visitors? Around 1750 people from around the world will be crammed into the concert hall in Palanga, along with a further 750-plus performing bandspeople, all breathing the same air, crowding the bars and restaurants post-event, sharing the same hotels. It is potentially a nightmare scenario, particularly if the infection rates increase across Europe between now and the event. Our hearts go out to the local organising committee and EBBA for having to deal with this and having the decision to make at some stage as whether the championships go ahead or not. At the moment it is full steam ahead, but what is the tipping point? I guess the official answer is official intervention.

The Lithuanian authorities may take a similar stance to Switzerland, France and Italy and ban large gatherings more than 1000 people. This is entirely possible but the saving grace until now is the number of coronavirus cases in Lithuania is just one. The total number of cases in Switzerland is 56 but they have axed the Geneva Motor Show because of the high number of international visitors, which increases the risk of inbound infection.

As a safety measure, as at most airports and ports now, Lithuania has brought troops into each of its airports to monitor inbound passengers. I would suspect the excellent organising committee in Palanga has already taken some measures for screening audience and bands alike. But what happens if an audience member or a bandsperson displays symptoms? It will most likely be a common cold but would they be refused entry to either the hall to play or the auditorium to view? What happens with the remainder of the band, the remainder of the audience? These are such tricky questions for the organising team and EBBA, questions that we have the utmost sympathy with as the potential outcomes and consequences for any particular course of action are far reaching and potentially major.

We, like everyone else, will be monitoring the situation carefully and we hope these great championships are not affected. The fact remains that, for everyone connected with the event, there will be some tough decisions to be taken in the coming weeks with a situation which is unpredictable, changing and worsening.