Coronavirus fears lead Shopify to cancel Toronto conference

Fears over the spread of the coronavirus are reverberating through the business world, causing markets to tumble, forcing manufacturers of items like face masks and hand sanitizers to scramble to ensure production can meet increased demand, and leading to a spate of office closures and event cancellations.

While Canada has been largely immune to the fallout from the disease, which had infected 82,550 people and killed at least 2,810 worldwide as of Thursday, its effects are slowly beginning to ripple through the business world.

On Friday, Ottawa-based e-commerce giant Shopify announced on Friday that it has cancelled its annual Unite conference, scheduled to take place in Toronto on May 7, over concerns about the virus (now formally known as COVID-19). About 1,000 people have attended each of the previous two conferences.

“Due to the evolving public health concerns around COVID-19, we’ve made a hard but necessary decision to cancel the in-person element of Shopify Unite this year,” said Shopify in an online statement. “We believe this is the best option to make sure we don’t put anyone’s health and safety at risk.”

The biggest ad industry event of the year takes place the following month in Cannes, not far from an emerging COVID-19 hotspot in northern Italy. As of Friday afternoon, Cannes Lions’ statement on the site says the Festival will take place as scheduled.

“Our thoughts are with all those affected by COVID-19 around the world. Our priority at this time is the safety of our delegates and teams—we continue to closely monitor the development of the COVID-19/Coronavirus and any potential impact on our event,” said the statement. “We are following guidance from the venue, the World Health Organisation and the French authorities.”

Media agency OMD announced Thursday that it is closing its Sydney office over concerns of the spread of the virus. The announcement came one day after OMD temporarily closed its London office after one of its employees exhibited flu-like symptoms after arriving back in the U.K. after travelling from Australia via Singapore.

OMD’s sister shop in the UK, PHD also temporarily closed its doors.

“I’m sure that we are similar to most organizations across all industries,” said Omnicom Media Group Canada CEO Cam Reston in an e-mail statement to The Message. “The health and safety of our staff is our highest priority.  That means that like everybody else, we are watching the situation closely and will take our lead from our public health authorities as the situation develops.”

Earlier this week, Dentsu announced that some 5,000 employees at its head office in Tokyo would begin teleworking after one of its employees tested positive for the virus.

And on Thursday, Facebook announced the cancellation of its annual F8 developer conference, citing “growing concerns” around the spread of COVID-19.

“This was a tough call to make,” said Facebook in a statement. “F8 is an incredibly important event for Facebook and it’s one of our favourite ways to celebrate all of you from around the world—but we need to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on. We explored other ways to keep the in-person part of F8, but it’s important to us to host an inclusive event and it didn’t feel right to have F8 without our international developers in attendance.”

On Friday, the BBC quoted World Health Organization head Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus as saying that the coronavirus outbreak has reached “a decisive point” and now has “pandemic potential.” The term pandemic is used by disease experts when epidemics are growing in multiple continents/countries at the same time.

The coronavirus has spread to a reported 40 countries around the world, with recent increases in cases in Italy, Iran and South Korea heightening fears that it is on the verge of becoming a pandemic.

According to a Marketwatch report today, fears over the coronavirus have led to a spike in sales of face masks among U.S. drug chains like Walgreens and Duane Reade. Another chain, CVS, said it is working to keep up with increased demand for hand sanitizer.




Chris Powell