2020 promised to be a spectacular year for global publishing events. By mid-February TNPS had already clocked upwards of 15 million visitors attending literary events outside the US and UK.

But as the nightmare sci-fi scenario of a global pandemic slowly becomes reality the international book fair calendar is in tatters amid uncertainty and palpable fear.

The cancellation of the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival was of course a given, after the UAE closed all schools, and was one of a number of events identified by TNPS as being on the at-risk register.

While neither Bologna (unwisely postponed rather than cancelled) nor Turin are yet officially off, no one is seriously expecting them to go ahead, and today comes news PRH has pulled out.

The Brussels and Poznan book fairs both went ahead, but it was a narrow escape in Poland, where Poznan has just closed all schools after the first case was confirmed in the city. One wonders how many Poznan Book Fair visitors may even now be inadvertently spreading the virus beyond the city.

And that, of course is why prophylactic measures like voiding large gatherings of people is so important, and why event organisers hiding behind government indecision need to think again.

Meanwhile New York’s Book Expo America and the UK’s Hay Festival are still going ahead. Or a least, that’s what the organisers are telling us.

Déjà vu. Didn’t they say that about the Paris Book Fair, the London Book Fair, the…

There are of course sound economic reasons for the organisers to hide behind government indecision and say the show must go on. Insurance claims, for example.

But that’s to put the safety and welfare of everyone at risk, and drive the uncertainty forward while some governments dither and find excuses not to act.