Public health

Rheumatology meetings haven’t yet succumbed to COVID-19

Still hoping to get to your favourite rheumatology conference this year? Or will the threat of coronavirus be enough to force a break from the buzz of the majors such as EULAR or ACR?

While some medical conferences in other specialties such as oncology have already been cancelled or postponed, rheumatology meetings are – for now – still going ahead. 

The British Society for Rheumatology seem to think the risk will be minimal tucked away in Glasgow for their annual conference next month (20-22 April) but are closely monitoring the situation and following WHO and local guidance regarding large scale events.

And the OARSI 2020 World Congress (Vienna, starting 30 April) is still “on”. 

“This plan is consistent with current guidance available from WHO and CDC, who have not called for a ban on non-essential travel to Austria. If Austrian authorities, WHO, or CDC suggest a ban on non-essential travel to Vienna, we will cancel or postpone the 2020 Congress,” it said on its website.

OARSI added that on-site infection control measures would be stepped up and it was investigating the possibility of remote participation for delegates under a travel ban.

Registration remains open for EULAR (Frankfurt, June) but organisers there are also “closely monitoring the situation”. 

In a statement on their website, EULAR encourages participants to follow the latest travel advice from the WHO, and notes that “personal travel insurance is an individual responsibility”.

Adelaide rheumatologist Professor Catherine Hill told the limbic risks such as being put in quarantine and consequent effects on work and family were important considerations in whether to attend overseas meetings. 

Not to mention the “… increased risk of exposure in travelling and being with large numbers of other conference attendees from different locations.”

She added that rheumatologists working in public hospitals or at universities may find their employers cancel conference leave, as has already happened in WA.

WA has banned all non-critical, work-related international travel for public sector employees, effective immediately.

“In order to protect our staff and patients, WA Health has decided to extend this ban to include all funded international work-related travel, including sponsored travel,” an advisory to staff said.

Professor David Hunter, from Sydney, told the limbic he was cancelling most of his travel commitments.

“I was meant to be in Korea for a meeting last week, had a meeting planned in Hong Kong and Guangzhou (China) the week after next and was anticipating going to OARSI in Vienna in late April. While the mortality risk for persons under the age of 60 is small, the need to quarantine for two weeks at the conclusion of any trip is a major deterrent to international travel to zones that have high rates of infection.”

He said travel supported by either the University or hospitals was unlikely in the foreseeable future with employers having understandable concerns about their obligations to their staff.

“While not participating in these meetings is disheartening and limits some potential collaborations, the health of our community should take precedence.”

Meanwhile conferences in the second half of the year are also employing a wait and see approach. 

At the moment, the 22nd APLAR Congress scheduled for Kyoto, Japan from 31 August is going ahead with organisers rather endearingly sending their “thoughts and prayers” to people affected by the coronavirus outbreak. 

ACR Convergence 2020, which expects close to 16,000 rheumatologists, rheumatology health professionals, fellows in training, and exhibitors from more than 100 countries at its November meeting in Washington DC, has not yet been cancelled.

ACR has however cancelled smaller, earlier meetings.

UPDATE: The British Society for Rheumatology meeting has now been cancelled. 

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