We are now well over a year into a global pandemic. While the vaccine rollout in some parts of the world has been going well we are still a very long way off a full return to any semblance of normality. Many countries are still imposing travel restrictions, both on their own citizens as well as travellers to those countries.
It’s not surprising that ICANN has officially extended their travel ban until the end of July. Many companies have taken similar steps and some companies have told their staff to stay working from home until the end of 2021 or even beyond that.
But what about future events?
What about those events that are scheduled for Q3 and Q4 of 2021?
While it’s highly unlikely that people will be able or want to travel to big international events right now, as the vaccine rollout continues it’s pretty clear that people are going to start travelling again, even if there are restrictions. If everyone is fully vaccinated then the risks of putting larger numbers of people together in close proximity are considerably lower.
ICANN has held all its meetings online since March of last year. How “good” those events have been is debatable but it’s clear that some people really want to return to “in person” meetings as soon as possible. What’s not clear is whether that desire is widely shared. While some people might like the idea of meeting other humans again they might not be comfortable doing so unless there were very strict protocols in place. (Personally I have very mixed feelings about in person events with larger groups of people. It’s one thing to meet up with a small group of people that you know, but it’s a very different thing to go into a room full of strangers in close proximity.)
Should ICANN require that all attendees be vaccinated?
Should people be required to do Covid tests of some kind before attending?
Should people wear masks at all times?
There’s a lot of questions that probably need to be answered, so they’re currently conducting a survey.
I suspect that we will see smaller regional events being held in the coming months. Travel between EU countries will be permitted in the coming weeks as the bloc rolls out a certificate system. In the US many things are now fully re-opened and a lot of the restrictions are being relaxed. So if a group of stakeholders based in the US wanted to meet there’s probably very little hindering them from doing so, especially later this year.
But the upcoming Seattle meeting could cause an interesting problem for ICANN. With the US vaccine rollout at this stage a success most Americans will have been fully vaccinated long before the meeting, which is slated to take place at the end of October. Europe’s vaccination program has not been as fast as the US one, but by October most countries should have caught up. But what about the “global south”? ICANN likes to see itself as being global and inclusive, so can it hold a meeting in person with restrictions that might block some participants? Adopting some form of “hybrid” format where a percentage of the attendees are in the room, while others are “remote” might be an option, though making it work well will be a challenge. No matter what ICANN might like to do in terms of rules and processes around its events it will still have to deal with whatever rules and restrictions are imposed on international travel and entry into the US.
Either way, I hope they make a clear decision on the final meeting of 2021 sooner rather than later.