November 25, 2021 | By Bronwen Largier

As more than half of Australia’s population readjusts to life on the other side of months of lockdowns, in the Northern Hemisphere, as winter approaches – and almost a year after COVID-19 vaccinations began to be rolled out – Europe appears be heading into another bleak winter, with two countries announcing lockdowns and many implementing or considering the reintroduction of restrictions.

With record case numbers being reported in many European countries, Austria has gone into at least a 10-day lockdown, while Slovakia has also set a two-week lockdown as it experiences the fastest growth in cases per capita worldwide. Several German regions are reintroducing restrictions and Denmark, which had been held up as an example of safe COVID-19 management, has also reintroduced restrictions including a vaccine pass to attend events, as the United States releases a “do not travel” warning for both countries.

And yet, here in Australia, as the business events industry discusses and markets its much-anticipated return, I keep seeing and hearing mentions of meeting in a “post-pandemic” world.

It’s time for us to adjust our expectations. A post-pandemic world – without constant uncertainty and change – is years away.

While I worry about the doom and gloom that may be coming our way next winter and while I try to shrug off the subconscious notion that pandemic recovery is a linear, straightforward process, I think we all need to view the current measures we have in place – whether government-mandated or not – as long term.

Total freedom, without density limits or vaccination requirements – perhaps even without masks – and without COVID may be years away. We need to embed measures that we’ve been thinking of as temporary and we need to look at baseline best practice – outdoor events where possible, good ventilation indoors, making sure staff mask requirements and attendee vaccination requirements are followed to the letter, because they keep us all safe. For our industry, we should be considering requiring vaccination of attendees even once governments officially ease on that front.

And if event organisers want to go a step further, promoting vaccination both in Australia, where more than 1.5 million of those eligible still haven’t had a single dose, and around the world, is something we can do to help the world and to give our industry the best chance of staying open.

In Australia, thanks to our high and still rising vaccination rates we may not experience what Europe is currently enduring, but there are fundraising and educational opportunities we can create and deploy within our industry power to help raise vaccination rates around the world.

Vaccination rates in developing countries are alarmingly low and without help they are likely to stay that way. And while people in Africa or Asia or, much closer to home, in PNG, catching COVID may seem unrelated to what we do, a new variant of COVID-19 – one that is more contagious and that can get around immunity provided by vaccination is something we should all be aware of and do whatever we can to avoid. High vaccination rates vastly reduce the chance of a variant emerging and spreading around the world. High vaccination rates will save lives and livelihoods, including ours.

As gatherers of people, as platform providers, as educators and motivators, we have an unparalleled opportunity to make a difference – or plant the seeds that will.

We’ve given BE a shot, now it’s time to see how we can help the rest of the world have one too.