The Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE), Taiwan’s largest annual literary event, which attracted 580,000 visitors in 2019, is officially postponed as fears about the coronavirus 2019-nCoV epidemic grow.

Initially scheduled to commence February 4 through 9, the dates May 7-12 have been set for the event, which must be seen as bravely optimistic given the way the virus is currently spreading, with the World Health Organisation declaring an international emergency.

At the heart of the decision by the Ministry of Culture is the cold reality of cramming over a half a million people into confined quarters when the virus is known to be in the country (8 confirmed cases so far).

Improbable as it may sound to those who are new to TNPS, book fairs globally constitute some of the largest public gatherings on the planet.

580,000 people attending a book fair may sound like a lot, but is small by some standards.

The Cairo International Book Fair in Egypt, for example, happening right now, attracted 600,000 visitors in just its first four days.

In India the New Delhi World Book Fair, which finished earlier this month, attracted over one million visitors, while the Chennai Book Fair, also in India this month, drew a crowd of 1.3 million.

Million-visitor book fairs are by no mean uncommon, but many are twice that, or more.

The Sharjah International Book Fair in the UAE, for example, pulled in 2.5 million people just a few months ago.

Unless the coronavirus can be brought under control very soon then TIBE is unlikely the be the only publishing industry casualty of the 2019-nCoV epidemic.