Singapore: With confirmed cases soaring to almost 100,000 worldwide, the coronavirus is wreaking havoc on plans for major gatherings across Asia, with top government meetings, a Formula One race, and the Olympics all in limbo.
Vietnam was set to shine this year as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and host of the country’s first Grand Prix competition April 3-5. The government is now having to mull whether the gatherings can go on in another form, or at all.
With travel curbs in place in many countries and business conferences scaled back, governments in Asia are getting an extra nudge to consider scrapping events. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank already announced this week they would use a “virtual format” for their annual spring gathering of finance chiefs and central bank governors, instead of holding the conference in Washington.
For now, the show must go on.
The main events calendar for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, kicks off with a meeting of economic ministers — typically the trade envoys for each country — on March 8-11 in Danang, Vietnam. Finance ministers and central bank chiefs are scheduled to gather in Quang Ninh, a province bordering China, March 24-27. Asean leaders are due to meet April 6-9 back in Danang.
“Vietnam, as the host of the Asean finance ministers’ meeting, is still working on the preparation for the event to happen later this month as scheduled,” Ngo Chi Tung, deputy chief administrator at Vietnam’s finance ministry, said by phone Wednesday. “We will just skip some side activities such as the Asean+3 meeting and some field trips.”
Singapore Trade & Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in an interview Wednesday that he’s so far keeping his plans to attend the economic ministers’ meetings in Danang next week.
“The greater the challenges, the greater the impetus to get it done, and done well — and done soon,” he said of the bloc’s policy agenda, before and since the outbreak.
The region should work on a coordinated response to the virus outbreak that starts with sharing information on confirmed cases and standardizing testing protocol, Chan said. Yet those measures as well as longer-term initiatives wouldn’t necessarily be “contingent on a physical meeting,” he said.
With videoconferencing software, like the popular Beijing-based Zoom Technologies Inc., “you can have everybody on the same screen at the same time and probably can get even more done if everybody doesn’t have to travel as much,” he joked.
About 770 kilometers (478 miles) north of Danang by car, Hanoi’s streets are being furiously equipped with slick surfaces and sturdy barricades to host Vietnam’s first Formula 1 competition. The race will proceed as scheduled, according to a statement from Vingroup JSC, which has signed a multi-year deal to host the event.
While a tight Grand Prix schedule for 2020 makes a postponement improbable, ticketholders might also run up against logistical snags if Vietnam’s current travel restrictions hold. Visitors to Vietnam from South Korea, Iran and Italy will be quarantined for 14 days, according to a March 3 post on the government’s website.
Asian Development Bank
Further east in Manila, Asian Development Bank organizers are especially attuned to the rapid run-up in virus cases in South Korea, where more than 6,000 have been diagnosed with the virus, up from just dozens two weeks ago. The ADB’s annual meeting is scheduled for May 2-5 in Incheon, a city that borders Seoul.
The ADB and the Korean government “consider the health and safety of all delegates and participants to be of the highest importance,” an ADB spokesperson said in an email Wednesday, noting that the organization is in active talks with local officials on the best way forward. “Any decision on potential changes to the arrangements of the meeting would be made in the coming weeks.”
The ADB issued a note to participants Feb. 21, citing “pre-emptive and preventative measures” the Korean government already had taken in response to the virus outbreak, as well as detection technology at Incheon’s airport and screening clinics throughout the city.
“Such measures will also continue for the ADB annual meeting, such as temperature checking on entry, provision of masks, regular disinfection and sterilization of the venues, and quick isolation of any persons exhibiting symptoms and subsequent treatment in one of four designated hospitals nearby,” according to the Feb. 21 statement.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, which is being chaired by Malaysia this year, held a regional dialogue of senior officials in early February in Putrajaya, near Kuala Lumpur, as planned. At the time, the secretariat said it was discussing the impact of the outbreak.
APEC finance and central bank deputies are, for now, scheduled to meet March 17-19 in Kuala Lumpur, with senior officials set to gather again in Kota Kinabalu in mid-April.
Further off on the calendar — though garnering perhaps the most international attention — are the Summer Olympics, set to be hosted in Tokyo from July 24. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Wednesday from Switzerland that “neither the word ‘cancellation’ nor the word ‘postponement’ was even mentioned” during a meeting of the IOC’s executive board earlier that day.
Tokyo Olympics Committee officials said Wednesday the body has no intention to cancel the games. Earlier, Japan’s minister for the Olympics had said a postponement was possible.
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