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SAFETY FIRST

A scientific meeting on coronaviruses was cancelled due to coronavirus

Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

The latest event to be cancelled as a result of the spread of the novel coronavirus is, ironically, a scientific meeting on coronaviruses.

On March 9, Nido2020, the official meeting of the International Nidovirus Symposium, was postponed to 2021. The meeting, which happens only once every three years, was set to take place this May 10 to 14 in the Netherlands.

“We started noticing that people were hesitating to register due to all the uncertainty,” said Marjolein Kikkert, a microbiologist at the Leiden University Medical Center who was leading the conference’s planning committee, in an email to Quartz. “The expanding outbreak in Europe in the last week made us feel we should take responsibility and set the good example as coronavirologists to not further spread the virus ourselves.”

“Nidovirus” is an order of viruses that includes coronaviruses, like SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus going around now), SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome, which emerged in 2003), and MERS (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, which emerged in 2012). The order also includes arteriviruses, a group that can infect horses, pigs, monkeys, and mice; and roniviruses, a group that can infect shellfish.

The 14 previous nidovirus symposiums have functioned like any other scientific meeting: Attendees would present research, find collaboration opportunities, and get to know other members of a relatively small field within microbiology. In an email sent to Quartz on Feb. 28, Kikkert said she and the planning committee were hoping they could avoid cancelling the meeting in order to exchange as much information as possible—especially about the new coronavirus circulating.

The group is still trying to figure out if they can share information remotely some time in May, although it would be a challenge because some of the attendees were planning to come from China; time differences complicate the scheduling.

Normally, about 150 to 200 scientists attend the meeting, according to Bart Haagmans, virologist at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, who was also planning the meeting. Kikkert hopes that, by postponing the physical meeting, the conference next year can have even more attendees.

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