COVID-19 and the 25th World Congress of Dermatology
What would be the impact of COVID-19 on WCD 2023 which will be held in Singapore in 3 years’ time?
As we come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us will be asking – When can our lives return to what it was before the pandemic struck? When will things go back to normal? If it cannot, what exactly does it mean when people say that we will need to settle to a “new normal”?
Social and physical distancing, wearing of face masks, frequent hand-washing, rubbing of hand sanitisers, checking-in and checking-out of premises using special apps to allow tracking of our movements for easy contact tracing, the endless virtual meetings on Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Google classroom and many other platforms which we previously never heard of, are now part of our daily lives.
So, the big question on everyone’s mind is “What would be the impact of COVID-19 on WCD 2023 which will be held in Singapore in 3 years’ time?”
The optimistic among us may think – “Come on! It is still years away. Things will surely improve and Covid-19 will retreat into just a background event!” We can probably still have the same mega-scale meeting with over 12 thousand participants, and bursting attendances in the halls and meeting rooms. We will be able to move freely from one room to another to quench our thirst for knowledge, catch up with friends and colleagues over coffee, and collect those wonderful samples in the crowded exhibition halls. The evenings will also be bustling with social activities.
However, can we really be this optimistic, will nothing change, or should we be a little more realistic? What would the post-COVID-19 era look like?
As a result of this pandemic, many meetings and conferences have been cancelled, others postponed and others converted to virtual meetings held online. AAD has the AAD VMX to replace its annual March 2020 conference. In addition to live sessions, one can simply log on to listen to recorded lectures and discussions on-demand in the comfort of our office and homes, without the need to spend on flights and accommodation, there will be no more jet-lag and stress of traveling. Even the upcoming EADV will be fully online.
Many of us would have already attended live webinars, meetings or virtual conferences, as participant or speakers. You will have your own experiences and no doubt formed your own opinions of the pros and cons of such virtual events.
As lock-down and travel restrictions ease with improvement of the pandemic, and even before an effective vaccine is available, we will need to consider plans for different models for WCD 2023 for the following reasons. All evidence points to the fact that SARS-CoV2 will be with us in the foreseeable future. There may be further waves of the infections that will once again lead to restrictions in international travel. There may also be differences in travel restrictions from one country to another, or from one region to another. There are already proposals of travel bubbles and green lanes of travel between selected specific countries. Furthermore, quarantine and bothersome border health controls may still be in place in 2023, these may also be a deterrent to travel.
Then there are those who will still be very worried about catching the virus, and travelling may not be their priority activity. Yet others may have become so used to virtual meetings and are perfectly happy with interacting online, that they we will prefer that option if it is available. For others still the lower cost of virtual conferences would be the deal breaker.
However, many of us are already looking forward to being able to travel again and to attend physical meetings, and to have face-to-face interaction with friends, colleagues and experts during WCD2023. So as long as all necessary precautions and safeguards are in place to ensure health and safety of delegates at the meeting, they will want to be there. Another consideration that can influence decisions is the need for fast and stable Internet and WiFi connectivity for virtual meetings to succeed. While this may be taken for granted by some of us, in some countries, Internet speeds and bandwidth are not good enough to allow smooth streaming of conferences, this makes travelling to the conference the better option.
Furthermore, the aim of any conference is never just about knowledge transfer. Conferences provide those intangible benefits that come with physical interaction – social networking, belonging to community, camaraderie and sharing of ideas that could spark off new relationships and collaboration. Last but not least is the question of how important a part does the venue and location play when we are deciding to attend a conference? The answer is probably a significant part. Attending a conference gives us the opportunity to explore place which is new to us, to learn different cultures and experience sights, sounds and ideas that broaden our minds, fill our hearts and make us better people.
Whichever outlook you are adopting now, rest assured that we are working towards an interesting and inclusive WCD2023!
A/Prof Yen Loo LIM
Prof Roy CHAN