ISMRM postpones conference due to concerns over SARS

April 30, 2003

MR association scrambles to rescheduleGrowing concern over the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Toronto has forced the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) to postpone its upcoming

MR association scrambles to reschedule

Growing concern over the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Toronto has forced the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) to postpone its upcoming annual conference. Only days before the postponement was announced, the society was still clinging to hope that the conference would go on. Travel advisories from the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and, especially, the World Health Organization, which advised against unnecessary travel, gave the ISMRM Executive Committee no choice.

WHO left little doubt about the public health dangers. The advisory included Toronto along with Beijing and Shanxi Province in China as places that should be avoided, if possible. The agency noted that the advisory, an extension of travel advice previously issued for Guangdong Province and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, was only temporary and that it would be reassessed in three weeks. That left no chance, however, that the ISMRM meeting could be held as originally planned. It was due to begin May 10.

Concerns about SARS were enough for the American Association for Cancer Research to pull the plug on its conference in the Canadian city, previously planned for April 5 to 9. A statement released by the AACR said the decision to cancel its meeting was based largely on its concern for attendees living with cancer whose immune systems are already compromised. More than 16,000 people were expected to attend that meeting.

Prior to making its decision to postpone its conference, which was announced April 24, the ISMRM had received "quite a few" inquiries about SARS, said Jane Tiemann, ISMRM executive director. Discussions within the organization closely involved its executive committee, which had to weigh the public health threat against the losses-both economic and informational-that would occur if the weeklong meeting was canceled.

The decision directly affects thousands of people and dozens of exhibitors from around the world that annually attend the meeting. An outright cancellation would be "hugely" expensive and could drastically change the society's financial picture, Tiemann said, imposing a loss in the millions of dollars. Postponement with rescheduling should mitigate those losses, however.

"Alternative dates are being urgently evaluated, and further information will soon be provided through updates on the ISMRM Web site and by e-mail," said ISMRM's Richard L. Ehman, in a prepared statement April 24.

Ehman promised further information-including procedures for rebooking or obtaining refunds of registration and hotel deposits-would be forthcoming. Details for the rescheduled meeting will be provided as soon as possible in order to allow more options for holders of airline tickets, he said.

The first cases of SARS in Canada were identified early this year. The first death in the country occurred March 5 in Toronto. Since then, at least six other Toronto-area residents have died, and dozens more have been infected. Thousands have been quarantined.

Bruce M. MacMillan, president and CEO of the Toronto Convention & Visitors Association, did not respond to requests for an interview. Ellen Flowers, a media relations officer for the association, said only that the tourism industry has been hit hard. In a statement on its Web site, Tourism Toronto reiterated its belief that the risk of exposure to SARS in Toronto is minimal.