Many organizations are returning to in-person conferences although the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. In addition, many countries are dropping public health measures like requirements for mask use indoors and on public transportation.
Given that we know that there is asymptomatic transmission and that there are likely to be a few infected persons in a group of several hundred, advising the benefits of masking, paying attention to distancing, and being aware of situations that are high risk only seems prudent and an application of the precautionary principle.
Despite the freedom that may exist to hold in-person events without restrictions, organizers and participants in conferences should consider the following minimum guidelines for reducing risk.
Organizers of conferences should pay attention to the risk of airborne transmission posed by all conference venues, including meeting spaces, social event locations, and official hotels. Outdoor venues for social events, meals, coffee breaks are preferable. If this is not possible due to climate conditions the indoor set-up should be spacious to allow distancing (with table settings at dinners adjusted accordingly) and sufficient ventilation should be confirmed by the organizers beforehand. Organizers may wish to consider adding portable air filters or temporary upper room germicidal ultraviolet systems to some spaces, installed by qualified professionals.
Participants should be encouraged to take at least a rapid test (which could be a self-test) prior to travelling to the conference and to take extra care to prevent infection in the days leading up to travel. Organizers should also provide support to participants to reduce their risk of becoming infected or infecting others. This includes freely available rapid self-tests and masks at the conference site with advice to test daily and to use masks (preferably N95 / FFP2, surgical masks still decrease risks) when in crowded places where distancing and good ventilation are not guaranteed, e.g., in public transport, airports, elevators, gathering halls, lecture rooms, meeting rooms, and informal preparation settings. A strict entrance policy should be enforced (number of participants given the space and ventilation capacity).
We want to attract young persons to our conferences. We are aware that for them tempting evening social in cities may be high risk. Organizers should consider this, give guidance on safe behaviour, and provide lower risk venue alternatives.
Further recommendation released by the British Government: Reducing risk of Covid-19 and infectious diseases at Trade Union Meetings and Conferences