Two major defence conferences in Ottawa will still be held despite fears raised by the novel coronavirus, including an event expected to bring 12,000 Canadian Forces members, federal government officials and security personnel from around the world together in one location in May.
But two other military social functions in Ottawa and one conference, scheduled in the coming weeks, have either been postponed or cancelled because of the virus.
The military equipment trade show, CANSEC 2020, expected to attract around 12,000 visitors to the EY Centre in Ottawa, will still proceed, according to the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, which organizes the event.
Defence firms from around the world will display armaments and other products at the May 27-28 trade show.
In the past, organizers have boasted CANSEC attracts thousands of Canadian government representatives and military personnel, as well as hundreds of VIPs, including generals, Canadian senators and cabinet ministers. In addition, delegations from around the world attend.
The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, or CADSI, is also proceeding with the Canadian Armed Forces Outlook conference, April 7-9, in Ottawa which will feature the leadership of the army, navy and air force, along with other key military officers.
But the coronavirus has taken its toll on other defence-related events.
Canadian Army commander Lt. Gen. Wayne Eyre announced Wednesday he has decided to cancel the Army Ball, a military social event held each year in Gatineau. It was supposed to have taken place on April 4.
Air force commander Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger announced he has postponed the inaugural Royal Canadian Air Force Ball, which was to have taken place in Ottawa on March 28. “I had to make this difficult decision in an effort to help reduce the risk of potential COVID-19 transmission within our veterans, personnel, families, and guests,” he wrote in a message. “This cautionary measure is being taken in the context of the evolving public health situation related to COVID-19.”
The European Union delegation to Canada announced Tuesday its security and defence symposium planned for March 24 in Ottawa has been cancelled. “The rising number of COVID-19 infections globally and the hazards related to travelling have led to this decision,” it noted. “In order not to expose any panellists, guests or other collaborators to unnecessary risks, the EU DEL postpones the symposium until the conditions permit a safe and unhindered travel worldwide.”
But CADSI president Christyn Cianfarani said there is an increased interest in both the Canadian Forces outlooks conference and CANSEC and at this point they are still scheduled to take place.
“The health and safety of participants remains our top priority and we continue to monitor developments pertaining to coronavirus on a daily basis,” she said in a statement. “We are also following the guidelines put forward by the Government of Canada, Health Canada, and the World Health Organization to promote hygiene and prevent the spread of germs on-site.”
She noted CADSI is following guidance from Ottawa Public Health. “Should anything regarding the event status change, we will share updates via email and social media,” she added.
The coronavirus has already caused the cancellation or postponement of many conferences, sporting events and rock concerts.
Norway on Wednesday cancelled a NATO Arctic exercise that was already underway with 15,000 troops from various nations. Norway’s defence ministry also announced that the country’s defence minister had cancelled all meetings and travel because he may have been exposed to the coronavirus.
At the Pentagon, defence officials have begun what they are calling “social distancing” measures. On Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s regular meeting with senior staff, normally held face-to-face in a single room with 40 to 50 participants, was broken up into three rooms with video-teleconferencing among the rooms, according to the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman. He said Esper and the 15 to 20 people in his room, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sat at least six feet apart, in line with health guidance.
Canada’s Department of National Defence, however, is not following the Pentagon’s lead.
Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said the Canadian Forces and DND is still participating in CANSEC and the outlook conference being held by CADSI.
“There is also no new direction on limiting in-person, work-related interactions,” she added. “However, CAF members and DND employees have been reminded not to attend work when they are sick, to exercise caution when in large crowds, and to seek immediate medical attention for flu-like symptoms.”
“We continue to monitor and evaluate the situation,” Lamirande said. “As the issue evolves, guidance will continue to be evaluated and adjusted.”
With files from The Associated Press
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