As we say goodbye to 2021 we must ask “are we heading to freedom or disaster?”
First an explanation about the lack of posts via ASE over the past three weeks. Quite simply, I’ve been too busy. In 2020 the advertising revenue dried up and I kept ASE going via my own resources. This year I changed the format from running media releases to encouraging commentary and opinion. I’m truly thankful to the contributors who have stepped up to share their views. With support from Job Keeper and some NSW government grants I have kept two staff on who have assisted with the production of ASE along with whatever photography, video and live streaming work we were able to bring in.
Then after six months of very little work for EventPix, restrictions were lifted in NSW and Victoria and we were inundated with work, doing more jobs in November than in the previous six months. Many of those jobs coming in at short notice.
Then December hit and we did more in three weeks than in November. So my team were flat out delivering those events and I had no time for ASE.
From conversations with various event managers in Sydney and Melbourne in particular, this rush of events in November and December was widespread, with event producers and venues struggling to find enough staff to deliver them.
What have learnt from 2020 – 2021?
First up – this is not over! As we head into 2022 we are facing a massive spike in COVID infections and increasing hospitalisations. The “National Cabinet” is meeting today to come up with some sort of plan. However it doesn’t matter what plan Morrison puts to them, it is the Premiers who will decide what actually happens. And despite what they say about “heeding the medial advice”, in the end they will continue to make political decisions.
For what it’s worth here is what I think all states should adopt.
Lockdowns as a last resort and free travel between and intra states.
Impose indoor density limits at one person per one square metre – this means that venues with seated patrons will operate at 100% capacity while venues where patrons pack together (such as nightclubs) will have some restrictions.
No restriction on outdoor density or maximum capacity at outdoor events.
QR checkins to continue or be reimposed.
Minimum double dose COVID vaccination requirement for all venues, hospitality, entertainment and non-essential shopping precincts – indoors or outdoors.
Indoor venues to install devices that display to patrons the CO2 levels in the space (more on that below).
Compulsory mask wearing where unvaccinated people are allowed to mingle with those who are vaccinated – eg public transport and essential shopping such as food (although there is no reason why the unvaccinated shouldn’t shop online).
Let’s expand on that
At the beginning of November things were looking relatively good. Restrictions were lifting, it looked like the spread of the Delta variant was capped and we could plan for a “new normal”.
Then Omicron struck.
To see how this might pan out let’s go back to June 2021 when a limo driver caught the virus from an international flight crew. The prudent option would have been to lockdown Sydney’s eastern suburbs immediately. However, Gladys Berejiklian prevaricated, and why? Because Scott Morrison and Dominic Perrottet were pressuring her to not lockdown any part of Sydney. The result was that COVID spread from that one contact across Sydney then through NSW and Victoria with disastrous consequences.
OK, it was probably inevitable that Delta would have escaped eventually but the fact remains that Morrison and Perrottet were behind our industry getting shut down in NSW and Victoria and the infection of thousands of their citizens.
Now that capacity restrictions have been or are being lifted I see the biggest issue in 2022 as venue choices.
The first choice, indoors or outdoors, is whether unvaccinated staff or patrons are allowed in. Quite simply, why should those who have gone to the trouble to get vaccinated be put at risk by those who refuse to? And note that I say “refuse to” – those who cannot for various medical reasons are a different matter. I have observed that many registered clubs around Sydney have taken the decision to extend the requirement to show double vaccinated status as a condition of entry until the end of January 2022. That I applaud.
Outdoor venues will continue to be considered the safest; however there are still issues with high density pinch points such as turnstiles, bag checks and food and drink outlets.
Access to large events via public transport is another are of concern when patrons are packed onto train, trams and busses and the associated platforms. Sydney’s NYE will present a huge risk and it will be very interesting to see what surge occurs in early January.
Indoor venues are of course another matter – especially when people gather for extended lengths of time, from a couple of hours for theatre production or a plenary session to a couple of days for a conference.
Let’s face it, hand sanitisers are so 2020. It has been well established that COVID-19 is spread through the air, not on surfaces. To minimise risk from aerosol transmission the air in a building has to be cycled and filtered regularly and this can be easily monitored by measuring the amount of CO2 in the space.
This is explained very succinctly by Dr Norman Swan in a recent interview with mice.net
Although venues will make certain choices, in the end it comes down to event and conference organisers to consider the risks and then ensure the venue complies. Events are already subject to health and safety assessments covering fire, accident, access and egress, trip hazards, etc. So now just add to that the infection risks that we must confront. There are three key elements – 1. the risk of allowing unvaccinated attendees in, 2. how closely they interact, and 3. The quality of the air in the venue.
How the event industry has been treated in 2021
The number one lesson from 2021 was that the current federal government does not understand the event industry. In particular they do not understand that it is a national (and international) industry. They expect the event industry (including business events, public events, festivals, etc.) to be regulated and supported at a state level, even though a Sydney based PCO may manage a major conference and expo in Perth and a Melbourne based event producer may deliver an awards programme in every state with local presentation nights followed by a national event.
This affects the industry in other areas such as Workers Comp insurance (all state based), event cancellation insurance, state border closures, and more.
They also totally ignored the nature of events, festivals, theatre and music where event managers, performers, technicians, etc. are contracted for a single event or season. This resulted in industry professionals not being eligible for Job Keeper and having to go on the dole.
The airlines were the only industry to receive any substantial federal support over the past two years. Just imagine if Alan Joyce had been fobbed of to the states, after all their offices are in capital city.
The accommodation sector was helped out to a limited degree by turning city hotels into quarantine stations, however most had to fend for themselves and depend on the states for support, as did hospitality and tourism.
Probably the hardest hit was the performing arts, who the federal pollies only see as props for announcements that they don’t deliver on.
Other major industries such as mining and transport were largely unaffected and there were many from the event industry with a truck licence who found work as drivers and couriers. The construction industry was also largely unaffected until they screamed blue murder when they were shut down for two weeks in NSW.