Similar tensions are expected to play out if the world’s biggest sporting event goes ahead this year. The International Olympic Committee reiterated last week that it is committed to the Tokyo games taking place in July, while acknowledging “there is no blueprint for this, and we are learning every day.” But in Japan, public opinion is overwhelmingly against holding the games. And there’s a lot of confusion and disagreement about the role the vaccines can or should play in helping the games happen.

While some news reports say Olympics executives are trying to make sure all participants can be vaccinated before arrival, Japanese officials have said having the vaccine won’t be a precondition. And certain countries’ Olympic Associations have said their athletes won’t jump vaccine queues to attend the games. For many countries, vaccinations are yet to start—including in Japan. (Sridhar notes it would be wise to proceed for now assuming there’s a chance someone vaccinated could pass on the virus, as it’s still too early for researchers to determine the impact on transmission.)

Japan’s prime minister has expressed his continued support for the games. But a close aide speaking this week said four conditions would need to be met: controlling infections, getting people to use contact-tracing devices, a vaccine rollout from next month, and some test sports events taking place between now and July.

A hybrid Davos

It’s more likely that Davos in Singapore could go ahead in some form, perhaps as a “hybrid” event, says Bart Buiring, head of sales and marketing for the Asia Pacific for Marriott hotels, with some small in-person events involving executives already based in the city-state for financial firms and other businesses, while additional people join in remotely. Several professional events have taken place in Asia in recent months in this manner, he said, particularly in China.

For meetings like these, expect registration to be far different from the name card drop and lanyard handing out practices previously in place. Registration will now include temperature checking, and will integrate a device or process for contract-tracing. There will of course be rapid on-site Covid testing. Venues will also need to start thinking about ventilation and airflow at conferences.

Then there’s the question of the extent to which attendees would be allowed to jet in—for how it would be Davos without that? Last year a sales conference in Singapore that drew 109 participants, mostly from outside the city-state, was later linked to at least 20 infections in six countries. Singapore is considering whether the risks from participants from elsewhere could be reduced if they are siloed at a specific spot to minimize contacts with locals—which could be the host hotel.

The Marina Bay Sands, which Reuters reported could be the venue for Singapore’s Davos, has resumed holding business conferences with limited participant numbers, which means the biggest venues have to be used, potentially making events more expensive. Guest tables are spaced out and separated with velvet ropes more typically seen outside nightclubs. The vice president of the hotel’s convention business has said that venues like this one will play a crucial role in bringing back events “by redesigning meeting experiences and food & beverage set-ups.”

One of the key attractions of such conferences is especially risky at the moment.

“A big part of these conferences, I imagine, is people gathering together and eating and drinking, but that is a strict no-no because those times when you’re eating or drinking are mask-off,” said Sridhar. “And having conversations in these kind of indoor areas is actually very, very conducive to virus transmission.”

Right now, whether in-person events like Davos and the Olympics will both go forward this year is anybody’s guess.

“Nobody at this moment can predict the health situation in 206 National Olympic Committees for the time of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, from late July until September of this year—not even the most prominent scientists in this area,” said the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

But the day that such mega-events can happen again in any location without factoring for quarantines or temperature checks at venues, it’ll mean we’ve truly put the pandemic behind us.

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