This year’s Colombo International Book Fair faces close scrutiny from health authorities to ensure compliance with safety regulations

Last minute cautions by Sri Lanka’s Chief Epidemiologist that the public should not attend the government- approved Colombo International Book Fair could cost the event dearly in revenue and sales, and harm the few exhibitors who decided to make themselves available

One might think that by now event organisers would be wary of even thinking about an in-person event this year, with so much uncertainty about how the pandemic will impact proceedings.

But as reported earlier this month, the Colombo International Book Fair, one of Sri Lanka’s biggest cultural events, was given government approval to go ahead, starting September 18, subject to meeting stringent hygiene and social distancing measures which would severely limit attendance.

But 24 hours before the event started Dr. Sudath Samaraweera, Chief Epidemiologist at the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health, requested the public to remain cautious and said that in his opinion it was,

not advisable to hold such large scale events with mass gatherings due to the coronavirus situation.

There are certain technical difficulties in holding such an event at present and it poses a threat to the citizens. In the event an individual infected with COVID-19 enters the premises it will be difficult to conduct contact tracing due to the large volume of people attending the book fair.

All of which begs the question why the Sri Lanka government agreed for the event to go ahead at all. Dr. Sudath Samaraweera’s last minute cautions are going to have a severe negative impact on already low visitor expectations, that will cost the event dearly in revenue and sales, and harm the few exhibitors who decided to make themselves available.

Despite the cautions, there was a reasonable turnout for the first day of the event, with news images showing masks being worn but very little social distancing.

This of course being the challenge all in-person events face. How to ensure social distancing rules in a crowded space at a public event?

Time will tell as to whether the authorities allow this fair to run its course (reports are they are watching closely), and whether exhibitors and the organisers consider it was worthwhile.