July 15, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier

Although there is a lot of talk about the post-pandemic environment, the cold hard reality is that the pandemic continues to rage and in Australia cases, hospitalisations and deaths are on their way up (again).

It’s been over two years and four months now. We’ve got to assume that pandemic patterns and evolutions are going to continue. That is what we do as an industry anyway isn’t it? Plan for the worst case scenario.

COVID cases are now a constant, but they rise and fall in waves and anything we can do during both the peaks and troughs of the waves to minimise transmission is good for the world and everyone in it – and, let’s face it, good for business too, if you’re in the line of bringing large groups of people together as we are.

At the top of the rabbit hole in terms of the benefits of reducing transmission for business is having more people able to go to work and go to events, making those events more convenient to attend – see more on the inconvenience of post-event COVID isolation in this piece from Tuesday – and therefore reducing barriers to event attendance.

At the bottom of the rabbit hole is minimising the chance of new variants developing and taking hold – they’re pretty much always more infectious than the last, which is how they take hold – which then brings us back to increasing concerns around attending events based on the threat of getting COVID, having to isolate, feeling unwell – and being very unwell for anyone who has underlying health conditions or lives with someone who does – and infecting others.

This week, both the Victorian and NSW state governments have opened funding rounds to help various groups in society upgrade infrastructure.

In Victoria, the state government has opened another round of its $60 million Small Business Ventilation Program, which helps public facing small businesses improve indoor air quality through both ventilation and air filtration, which in turn, lowers the risk of contracting COVID from time spent indoors. Grants of up to $5,000 are available.

In NSW, the government has just launched the next round of applications for the $72 million Creative Capital program, which funds infrastructure upgrades for arts and cultural facilities. In this initiative, the government is offering up to $250,000 per project for minor upgrades. In the first round of funding in 2021, this included a $250,000 for the Orange Regional Conservatorium to buy a concert grand piano.

While neither of these programs are targeting the events industry, this speaks to an availability and willingness to help businesses both upgrade their facilities and increase air quality for the greater good of society. And herein lies the opportunity for the events industry – for venues in particular.

To date, no venues have been shouting from the rooftops about increasing their indoor air quality in leaps and bounds and so I assume it is not happening. And let’s face it, indoor air quality could be better, otherwise we should be seeing fewer people getting COVID at events.

And I can only assume the reason that air quality upgrades – whether temporary or permanent – are not being undertaken is money. Put simply, it is not financially viable to spend thousands of dollars on these upgrades, because absorbing the cost into the business or dissolving it into client costs is unpalatable. And I suppose, because people are putting up with getting COVID at events, although through how many waves that tolerance will continue remains to be seen.

There is an opportunity here. If we get back on the advocacy train, we can approach government – state is looking best at this point, considering the federal treasurer’s cries over the debt level, plus states could use the upgrades as another way to attract event business – to provide financial assistance to make some of these ventilation and filtration improvements. If we position it right, we could argue a reasonably high impact on society if we could reduce COVID transmission at events as it stops chains of transmission before they proliferate out into the world via attendees’ families and friends, through their childcares, their schools and their workplaces.

The only thing is, we’ll need to somewhat swallow our pride and admit what we already know – that there is a significant amount of transmission taking place at events. But the upside is, there are plenty of ways to bring it down, with a little help.