ACHS 2020 to run as a fully Virtual/Online Conference
In consultation with the ACHS Executive Committee, we have taken the difficult decision to cancel the face-to-face aspect of the ACHS 2020 Futures conference which had been planned to be held in London this August, and move to hold the conference over the same scheduled dates as a fully online/virtual event. We know that many of you were hopeful to still be able to attend the conference in person, and we too have been holding out in the hope that we would be able to deliver some form of blended virtual and face-to-face conference. However, it now seems clear that some degree of social distancing regulations will remain in force in the UK and elsewhere, albeit on and off, for some time to come. Obviously the safety of conference participants must be our first concern, and we cannot at this stage see any way of running a face-to-face conference of any size safely given these ongoing issues. It also seems highly unlikely that international travel will be back to normal by August, and we know that some of our colleagues in other countries have had travel and funding restrictions imposed on them that will last until the end of the year. Moving to a fully online/virtual conference at this stage will allow us to put all of our energy into ensuring that the event is accessible to the largest number of those of you who responded so thoughtfully and enthusiastically to our call for papers, and to run the conference in a way that guarantees the best quality of interactions and discussion we can provide to participants in an online format.
While it is disappointing that we will not be able to meet in person, we are excited by the challenges and opportunities which running the conference as a virtual event opens up to us. In line with the conference theme, we hope this will encourage you, as it encourages us, to think through how the new format might help to reshape the ways in which we interact and communicate as an academic community in the future.
This is obviously a significant change in direction for us as conference organisers, and whilst we have been working on this as a contingency for some time, it nonetheless will require some time and significant effort to work out the best way forward to provide a platform which emulates aspects of the face-to-face conference but also takes advantage of the additional opportunities afforded by running it in a virtual format. To this end, we are in the process of working with Ex-Ordo and other providers to come up with a solution that will allow all those of you who still wish to present to do so. We are developing toolkits to guide session organisers and speakers through the process of moving their papers and sessions online. Whilst we have an excellent team working on the administrative side of the conference organisation, it is nonetheless a small team, with one-two people each working part time. The team is adapting to significantly increased homeworking, home schooling and caring responsibilities due to our changed circumstances here in the UK, as in many other parts of the world, as well as dealing with both the real and existential threats which the pandemic has brought to their own and their families’ health. So we ask that you bear with us at this time while we clarify matters and develop a new plan for the conference over the coming weeks.
There will be some advantages to the change of format. As most of the conference registration fees were to cover venue costs, we will be able to offer significantly reduced registration fees to participants. To this end, we have closed registration for the moment and will reopen it once we have confirmed the new registration fees. Rest assured that, for those who have already paid their registration fee, we will reimburse you the difference between what you have paid and the reduced fee. For those who decide they no longer wish to participate, we will of course fully reimburse your registration payment in due course.
We will be updating the website again within the next two weeks with more details. We are sure that you will have some immediate questions and hope that the answers given below will go some way to answering them.
How will the virtual conference work?
We are still finalising the details, but it is likely that we will ask for presentations to be pre-recorded and uploaded to a platform some weeks in advance of the conference dates. Guidelines will be developed to assist you with this. In order to view the presentations, you will need to register. You will then be able to view presentations at a time that suits you and to submit questions to presenters and session organisers asynchronously, either in advance of, or during the conference. We hope to be able to provide a platform which will also allow session organisers to host live Q&As for each session, which you will also be able to attend virtually during the conference dates themselves. We hope to also be able to extend this option to schedule live meetings over the days of the conference for ACHS chapters and networks too. Our aim is to try to emulate as many aspects of the face-to-face meetings as we can, but in a virtual format.
How much will registration be?
We are aiming to keep the cost of registration to a minimum, charging only a small fee to cover costs we are unable to cover from alternative sources. Registration will give you access to all presentations, conference app, and keynote addresses. It will also give you access to live Q&A and discussion assuming we are able to facilitate these.
How do we register?
We will send out an email with details once registration to the virtual conference has opened.
I have already registered, how do I get a refund?
If you have already registered you are entitled to a full refund. We will send out details of how to obtain a refund when we send out the new registration details. We will offer the option of a full refund or a refund minus the cost of the virtual registration fee, depending on which you would prefer.
Is the registration deadline still 1 May?
For the moment we are still working to a registration deadline of 1 May. We will notify you of any changes to this date in our next email.
When is the deadline for editing our abstracts?
1 May. If you are certain that you will not take part in the virtual conference please withdraw your abstract(s) from the system.
We hope that many of you will join us virtually in August. We would like to thank all of you for your patience and for your kind and encouraging emails over the past few weeks. These are clearly unprecendented circumstances which place a significant strain on all of us, and mean we must all deal with a great deal of uncertainty at this time. Please do continue to bear with us as we work to reorganise the conference and investigate the full range of options over the coming weeks. Please do bear in mind the limitations of our small group to deal with the increased correspondence we expect this to generate. We hope you are all well and safe and continue to remain so during the pandemic.
Professor Rodney Harrison, ACHS 2020 Conference Chair, on behalf of the ACHS 2020 organising committee.
Please note that the conference office, in line with UCL Easter closure, will be closed from 9 to 14 April inclusive.
A message from the Conference Chair
We would like to thank those of you that have been in touch with us over the past week to indicate that you are currently unable to register but would hope to attend should travel and any other funding restrictions be lifted. We also thank those of you who have been able to register despite the fact that, given the current situation, you know you may at some point need to have your registration refunded. This is helping us to gauge what steps we need to take to try to deliver the conference in a way that is meaningful to a majority of the Association’s members and those of you who submitted papers in response to the call for submissions.
As we had anticipated, the situation has worsened for many of us. Here in the UK we have moved to working from home wherever possible and have been directed to practice social distancing and to limit all non-essential contact with others outside of our individual households. Schools and universities have all been closed. We are sure that many of you will be experiencing similar, if not more extreme, disruptions and restrictions. We also know that statistically, some of you may yourself be ill, or have loved ones who are ill with Coronavirus, and we want to particularly extend our thoughts and wishes to those who have been directly affected in this way.
We recognise that this is a very uncertain and worrying time for all. We have been in discussion with the ACHS Executive Committee and have decided to extend the registration deadline to Friday 1 May in the first instance. We hope that this will alleviate some of the pressure that many of you have been feeling to make a decision about whether to register or not given the current circumstances. We are aware that for others of you, this may still mean participation is not possible. We will continue to monitor the situation and will review this decision as the weeks progress.
In addition to this we are exploring options to mitigate the potential travel constraints many of us are now experiencing to deliver more of the conference virtually. We will be in touch when we have more details on this.
We reiterate that we are offering a full refund to all registrants, regardless of the reason, up to 31 May. We then extend full refunds to 30 June to any presenters restricted from attending because of governmental and/or institutional funding/travel restrictions in place due to COVID-19. In the event that we have to cancel the conference we will refund the registration fee in full to all registrants.
This is clearly an unprecedented situation which will have far reaching implications for the ways in which we interact as an academic community and myself and my colleagues on the organising committee are doing our very best under these difficult circumstances to plan to deliver a conference of some kind which will be accessible and meaningful to as many of you as we possibly can.
I would also like to take the opportunity to ask you to please be patient if you write to us, as we are dealing with an extremely high volume of correspondence and many additional constraints which are being placed on us in both our professional and personal lives, and we might not be able to reply to your messages as promptly as we might wish. We would like to take this opportunity to wish you the best and to reassure you that the health and safety of our registrants and our team is our first priority. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you updated over the coming weeks.
Best regards Professor Rodney Harrison, ACHS 2020 Conference Chair, on behalf of the ACHS 2020 organising committee.
UCL has convened an operational and response group to address the UCL response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The group’s policy is to follow the advice from Public Health England (PHE), the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the National Health Service (NHS). PHE has not issued any restrictions on large events or gatherings of people at this time.
The health and safety of our delegates and the ACHS 2020: FUTURES team is our top priority. It is difficult to know what restrictions on public gatherings/travel etc. will be put in place over the coming weeks and months but based on what we do know, ACHS 2020: FUTURES will be going ahead as planned.
Information for Presenters
We note that China and South Korea have reported a decrease in the number of new cases but we expect the situation in the UK and several other countries to worsen before it improves. As such, we do not feel that an extension to the speaker registration will be meaningful. In order to deliver a successful conference in August we need to continue with the timeline we have set in place, that being that those speakers who intend to participate in the conference should register by the 31st March (please see below for exceptions). We understand that it is impossible for speakers to know yet whether they will be able to attend or not and so we are putting in place a number of measures to mitigate this uncertainty:
• We are extending the date by which registrants are entitled to a full refund on registration fees to 31 May
• We are working to offer the option to present virtually to presenters who have registered but are not able to travel due to government travel restrictions or those for whom institutional funding/travel bans mean that they are not able to attend. This may be via pre-recorded paper presentation or a live-stream (e.g. Skype), we are working on the details for this and will confirm in due course. Virtual participation in the conference will be limited to the sessions in which presenters are presenting. Please get in touch with the conference office firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel you might want to take advantage of this option
• Presenters affected by governmental restrictions on travel and/or institutional funding and travel bans who do not wish to be included in the programme, as above, will be entitled to a full registration refund up to 30 June
• If the situation changes drastically and does not improve within expected timelines we will aim to make a decision regarding the viability of the conference no later than 10 July (please note that we cannot exclude the possibility of cancellation after this date if a situation arises, COVID-19 or otherwise, that requires it). In the event that we cancel the conference a full refund of the registration fee will be made to all registrants
• We are aware that several institutions in Australia have issued zero-travel policies which may mean affected presenters are not able to register by the deadline of 31 March. If you are unable to register by 31 March for this reason, but would still hope to take part in the conference, please get in touch with us at the conference office email@example.com using the subject line “Zero-travel policy”. We will have to get a sense of how many people this will apply to before we are able to take a decision on how best to proceed.
We will continue to monitor the situation regularly and to develop health and safety guidelines in line with UCL and WHO guidelines in order to protect the health and safety of the ACHS global community.
We will keep presenters informed of any major changes by email and the conference website
Why can’t the conference be delivered virtually?
ACHS 2020: FUTURES is a large conference, current planning is for 17 parallel sessions per day, and we simply do not have the technology and infrastructure available at the price point set for registration to make this available.
Why do you need presenters to register by 31 March?
Initially this was simply because the programme is so large and complex, we are expecting upwards of 800 speakers, that we needed to have a fairly good idea of which accepted submissions would be being presented before putting the programme together. This would always be subject to change as situations arise that mean people’s plans sometimes do have to alter.
Now, with the added instability of COVID-19, we need to have an idea of how many presenters intend to come assuming that they are able to and that it is safe to do so. Whether it is safe to proceed with ACHS 2020: FUTURES is not something that will become clear until closer to the conference. If we extend the registration deadline for presenters until closer enough to the conference that the situation has become clear we will not have time to prepare and deliver a successful conference. Once we have this intended speaker information we will be better able to judge what measures need to be put in place to support the delivery of the conference.
What should I do about booking accommodation?
The majority of hotels in the area offer generous cancellation policies, normally up to one day ahead of the day of arrival. The majority of the hotels with ACHS room allocations https://achs2020london.com/plan-your-trip/ offer similar cancellation policies but please do check with hotels before reserving rooms.
I need to book my travel, what do you suggest?
Wherever possible please book travel that can be cancelled and please ensure that you have travel insurance in place to cover cancellations.
Will the conference be postponed?
It is not likely that we will postpone the conference if it does not go ahead as planned in August.
What measures is UCL putting in place to increase safety levels?
Cleaning staff are being re-directed from low priority tasks to cleaning washrooms and other high priority areas to deal with the increase in usage. UCL is stocking more anti-bacterial soap in all washrooms with hand sanitiser available as a back-up. Hand sanitiser is being distributed to all kitchen areas across campus to support hand washing facilities.