Radiology group may sue city after ‘irresponsible’ approach to coronavirus derails its trade show

The European Society of Radiology is eyeing legal action against Austrian authorities after they forced organizers to delay the group’s 2020 conference in Vienna at the eleventh hour.

ESR first announced the postponement of its annual European Congress of Radiology last week, moving the start date from March to July 15-19. Officials revealed the change about a week prior to its March 11 launch, allowing little time to rearrange travel plans.

But leaders are now detailing that local officials left the ESR in limbo, with no direction on the decision. Despite “intensive efforts” to stay on top of the outbreak, public officials never ordered the event canceled, ESR Managing Director Peter Baierl told local media. Instead, authorities placed the entire burden on to the society, and the ESR is now pursuing legal action against Vienna and the Republic of Austria to recoup its losses, Der Standard reported March 5.

The postponement will likely hit Vienna’s hotel and tourism industry hard, with about 30,000 attendees expected, Wiener Zeitung reported. Taking place in Vienna since 1991, Baierl estimated that it generates more than $20 million (USD) and 300 jobs for the city each year. In addition to the lawsuit, ESR said it may also explore relocating the event in future years, given Austria’s "irresponsible, business-damaging, and highly unprofessional approach" to the outbreak.

If it goes on as planned in June, this will be the 32nd annual meeting of the ESR and 26th to take place in Vienna. It’s Europe’s largest professional radiological meeting, with participants joining from more than 130 countries across the globe.

Prior to the postponement, ESR officials had issued hygiene recommendations for the Congress, which included washing one’s hands, staying home if sick and urging attendees to “avoid shaking hands at the congress.” “Instead, let us greet one another onsite by placing a hand on our chest,” the society urged.

The European Society of Radiology has been one of a select few to postpone, rather than kill, its annual meeting. Others announcing show cancellations this month include HIMSS, the Association for Medical Imaging Management, the Society of Interventional Radiology, and the American College of Cardiology.

ESR also issued a recent public call to action this month, urging authorities to step up their game and “act responsively and in the interest of public health in face of the COVID-19 outbreak across Europe.”

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