To accompany the new show title of Baselworld, we had the additional pleasure of the Swiss Government throwing a political spanner into the works by making the totally illogical decision to not allow the 5,000 Hong Kong exhibitors to work in the Basel annexe of Zurich. 24 hours and some frenzied discussions later, the de-cision was made that would allow them to show their products as of Sunday, the fourth day of the Basel show on the following conditions:
a) A full daily health check by a qualified medical practitioner before
entering the Show sites.
b) Daily certification of having passed the required medical inspection
to be worn by each individual.
c) Masks to be worn and changed every four hours whilst on the
d) Daily disinfection of all stand display items and products.
e) All instructions to be communicated in the individual's mother tongue.
To achieve this, an entire army of doctors would have had to be made available, working non-stop 24 hours a day every day of the Fair. Needless to say, the Hong Kong delegation immediately packed their bags. Given that they write around 30% of their annual sales at the Fair, at a rough guesstimate they have lost about 1.5 billion dollars in revenue not to mention another 50 million or so in travel, hotel accommodation and stand construction expenses.
One could be forgiven for asking if SARS was the real reason for stopping the Hong Kong delegation from working.
These political shenanigans were brought about by a special pneumonia virus - or to use its designer acronym, SARS. Knowing little or nothing about the problem, I decided to telephone my old friend U. Hueng Loe, the Chinese acupuncturist I often use to alleviate the pain of my ingrowing toenail. U is an astute and cultured man and although his name suggests a Chinese connection, I'm fairly sure its origins are more a mixture of Irish and Russian. Educated at Eton, Harrow and Liechtenstein University, I assumed he would be able to enlighten me on the symptoms of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
“Hello U,” I screamed into my mobile.
“Hello you too,” U squeaked back in his dulcet, high-pitched voice.
“U I don't understand why the Hong Kong exhibitors were allowed into the country, permitted to roam around the Fair, eat in the restaurants, sneeze abundantly in the reception area of their hotels and buy watches, but were not allowed to sell them on their booths.”
“Ah, so. You come light place, I specialist on ploblem.” he said in his broad Etonian accent.
“That's great U. So tell me.”
“Sevee Acute Lespilatoly Syndlome is like computer bug. It work only when you work. If you not work, there no ploblem, you no sick. That why fever oliginate in China and Hong Kong, people do much work.”
“Are you saying that the virus can differentiate between a Chinese visitor buying watches and one that is selling them?”
“Is collect. You no work, you no get sick. Swiss Government unstand ploblem. They no work too much on ploblem either. But they may get sick when compensation bill come.”
“What the hell has work got to do with SARS? People in China and Hong Kong caught it by simply walking in the street”
“Is so, but they going or coming flom work. I plove to you. You no got sickness?” U all too eagerly asked.
“No I haven't,” I exclaimed adamantly.
“You no work, you no get it. So you see, you lazy man, you no get sick.”
What I could see was that I wasn't going to get far with U. Hueng Loe, so I told him where to put his SARS theory and hung up.
Looking back at the Swiss Government's decree, I noticed that the Fair organizer must ensure that exhibitors neither 'employ nor engage people who have been in those affected areas after 1 March 2003, and applies to all exhibitors. Penalties for infringement include imprisonment.'
Since a vast number of European exhibitors had been in Hong Kong recently and continued to exhibit, I suppose we can assume that the entire BaselWorld team will soon be incarcerated and reclining on metal beds without their belts and shoelaces.
If René Kamm and Monica Guarnaccia are reading this article, please don't worry. Since I'm very fond of you both I'm searching for a fruit wholesaler so that I can bring you some lychees, sorry make that oranges, when I visit.
Hopefully, I'll see everyone back in Basel next year - that is if I can stop sneezing and get rid of my fever.