COVID-19 fears put a halt to agricultural events

The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, annual meeting of the Manitoba Pork Council and KAP’s Discover Ag in the City have all been cancelled

The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair tops the list of agriculture-related events facing cancellation due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve been monitoring this situation as it’s been developing all along,” Ron Kristjansson, general manger of the Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba, said. “Obviously, public safety needs to be a huge concern for us in the events business and, as the messaging globally became more and more focused on the public safety, the social distancing and being able to avoid close contact with large groups of people, that sort of describes our fair pretty closely.”

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The exhibition reached out to Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living through their local elected officials in the second week of March, he added.

“It just was felt that the social distancing requirements just could not be met in our environment,” he said.

Why it matters: The long list of event cancellations now includes a number of agricultural events scheduled for the next several weeks.

“Obviously, it’s an incredibly tough decision for our board to cancel the biggest event of the year and one that, as their manager, I salute them for having the courage to do it.”

The Provincial Exhibition of Manitoba is not alone. Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) and the Manitoba Pork Council have also postponed events. The Manitoba Farm Safety Conference, set for March 20 in Morden has also been postponed, while all Association of Manitoba Municipalities events in April and the April 8th meeting of the Manitoba Institute of Agrologists have been cancelled.

On March 12, KAP announced they were postponing their Discover Ag in the City event, scheduled for The Forks March 14, until late spring 2020.

Likewise, the Manitoba Pork Council annual meeting and banquet (originally set for March 25) has been postponed, “until further notice.”

“As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, we all have a role to play in slowing its spread and minimizing its impact on our health care system and in our communities,” a March 13 statement from council chair George Matheson read.

The statement went on to say that the council’s financial statements would be released at the end of March for members, as planned.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association (WCWGA) have also cancelled their planned annual convention slated for March 17 and 18 in Regina.

The wave of cancellations came soon after the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 global outbreak a pandemic March 11. As of March 13, the WHO had reported over 132,000 cases of the virus in 123 countries, leading to 5,000 deaths.

Manitoba reported its first cases of the virus the following day, March 12. The province announced that a woman they say was exposed through travel to the Philippines, had tested positive for the virus. Another two presumptive cases were announced the same day, both linked to travel.

The province has advised the public to adopt social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, including avoiding crowded events and travel, avoiding contact like handshakes, and avoiding prolonged close contact with others in public. At the same time, places like businesses and schools were advised to consider things like online classes, more space between desks, working from home and more lenient sick day policies.

Kristjansson expects that his organization will feel the cancellation. The fair is their “revenue driver to set the pace for events the rest of the year,” he said.

“We simply do not plan to ever cancel our event and then have to backtrack through this,” he said. “We need to examine how we proceed though this and what it will look like in coming days.”

About the author

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Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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