The world’s most important children’s book fair at Bologna, Italy, has been postponed until May as Italian authorities adopt extreme measures to contain the coronavirus, with six dead so far and the highest number of infection reports in Europe.

With many experts reporting they believe the virus is approaching a tipping point where a global pandemic could ensue, the decision of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair (BCBF) organisers to postpone the event only from March 30 to May 4 seems remarkably optimistic.

On twitter the BCBF said,

We hereby inform all Exhibitors and Visitors that due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus emergency Bologna Children’s Book Fair has been rescheduled for Monday 4—Thursday 7 May 2020.

In doing so Bologna joined Taiwan’s Taipei International Book Exhibition in electing to postpone its book fair.

As noted at the time, it was unlikely to be the last, and we can safely assume there will be many more event casualties this year unless something unforeseen happens to see the pandemic threat fade.

For Bologna the situation was compounded by the actions of the Italian authorities in quarantining parts of the country, but also by the simple reality that many visitors and exhibitors will be wary of travelling to any venue where large numbers of people from around the world are crammed into a small space.

And that in turn raises the question of the literary event tipping points, which will vary from one book fair to another, but will centre on just how many exhibitors have or will pull out, and how many visitors have or will cancel their travel plans, even if the country is deemed safe.

As this post goes live the London Book Fair is still going ahead next month, but three weeks is a long time in world health pandemic fear terms, and it would be a brave man willing to bet their salary on the London Book Fair going ahead on the scheduled dates.

Meanwhile the Muscat International Book Fair in Oman is set to open this week, and with 1 million visitors expected (just 25,000 expected at London) will be the largest book fair by visitor numbers since the Coronovirus emergency began.

Between Muscat and the original London date we have major book fairs to come in Turkey, Poland and Belgium, all of which now have a question mark hanging over them. In each case the organisers will be weighing known and expected exhibitor and visitor cancellations against the benefits and costs of postponing or even cancelling this year’s events.

Global health scares of this nature are hardly new, of course, and it’s worth remembering that other recent scares have quickly faded away. Ebola, anyone?

It’s also worth bearing in mind that another virus killed far more people this past year than the Coronavirus. Yet we have come to terms with and live with the flu.

From ABC News just one month ago:

So far, 6,600 people have died and 120,000 people have been hospitalized during the 2019-2020 flu season, according to preliminary estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Friday. January 17, 2020.

For now all stakeholders in the publishing industry need to be taking things one day at a time.

If this health scare is the one that turns into a true pandemic the costs to the global publishing industry could be devastating.