ECR 2021 may still take place onsite in Vienna

By Edna Astbury-Ward, PhD, AuntMinnieEurope.com contributing writer

December 1, 2020 -- Don't give up on the idea of attending a "real" conference in the spring. That's the message of European Society of Radiology (ESR) President Prof. Dr. Michael Fuchsjäger, who remains optimistic about a face-to-face congress happening in Vienna between 3 and 7 March 2021. A mass COVID-19 testing program is underway in the Austrian capital, and the outcome of the testing and the availability of vaccines look set to influence the final decision.

"2020 has brought with it numerous challenges for the ECR. Unfortunately, we do have to understand that many of those challenges will continue into 2021. So, organizing our annual meeting comes with various uncertainties," he explained in a video broadcast posted on 24 November on the ESR website.

Professor Doctor Michael Fuchsjaeger
Prof. Dr. Michael Fuchsjäger.

"Regulations are changing rapidly, so we have not given up hope that some form of onsite activity will still be possible for ECR 2021," Fuchsjäger said, adding that should vaccines become available in the weeks ahead, it might be possible to run the conference with a strict testing regimen of all attendees. "Should there be any developments that offer new opportunities for ECR 2021, we will adapt accordingly."

A report in the local media on 27 November stated that Vienna will start its coronavirus mass testing program on 2 December -- several weeks earlier than the dates laid out by the federal government. The plan is to test 1.2 million people at centers in the Vienna Stadthalle (City Hall), Marxhalle in Landstrasse, and at the exhibition hall near Prater, noted the article in thelocal.at. The tests will be conducted on a 'walk-in' basis. In total, 300 'test lines' will be set up -- which means capacity will be 50 times larger than the current testing scheme. Each line can test up to 500 people per day -- meaning 150,000 people can be tested per day at each site.

Vienna's testing centers are likely to be fully up and running by 1 December, according to a report posted on 30 November by the Metropole.at website. So far, almost 132,800 people have been tested for the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in these sites, and around 8% were positive, amounting to slightly more than 10,700, it stated.

Safety of ECR attendees

Should an onsite congress happen in March, the safety and wellbeing of delegates will be paramount, said Fuchsjäger, who is professor and chair of radiology at the Medical University of Graz. "Your safety is the ESR's first priority, and we will strictly follow all decisions and recommendations of the Austrian authorities."

The Austria Center is still reserved for the congress, so should regulations alter and/or vaccines become available, it is entirely feasible that an onsite meeting under strict local criteria could still take place, he added.

If ECR 2021 has to be virtual, however, delegates can expect "a completely new level of interactivity" for an online event. "That means, if you cannot come to us, we will bring ECR to you," he said.

Fuchsjäger elaborated on the logistics for the ECR Pop-Up World Tour. It will feature scientific and industry events hosted by the Arabian Peninsula (Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates), Armenia, India, and Austria. There will be hands-on workshops, product launches, a feature called "meet the leaders," and lectures from national keynote speakers and cultural events. All of this will be live-streamed on ESR Connect.

There will also be a focus on how to build and sustain resilience for radiologists in difficult times, he continued. The scientific program will consist of advanced courses on neuroradiology, cardiothoracic imaging, and artificial intelligence. There will be basic courses on breast imaging, understanding MRI technique, and MRI safety, as well as a session on the Lancet Oncology Commission. Additional sessions will look at venous thromboembolic disease, rectal cancer treatment, lung cancer screening implementation in Europe, and postmortem imaging.

"There will be live presentations and pre-recorded presentations, and we will raise the level of interactivity, not just to the next step but to the step above that," Fuchsjäger said.

The decision about whether ECR 2021 can be onsite is still pending because Vienna is in a second lockdown, a spokesperson confirmed to AuntMinnieEurope.com, adding that ESR staff are working together with the authorities but have not yet received a clear indication from them about where the event is heading.


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