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So far, virus fears aren’t hurting Boston’s convention business

Organizers of PAX East gathering say attendance was strong over the weekend. Meanwhile, the New England Food Show is still on the menu for later this month.

The Destroy All Humans booth at the PAX East Convention in Boston
The Destroy All Humans booth at the PAX East Convention in BostonDavid L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Japanese videogame giant Sony skipped last weekend’s annual PAX East convention in Boston, citing fears of spreading the coronavirus. But the usual hordes of avid gamers were out in force. And the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority said that , for now at least, it sees no sign the epidemic will affect upcoming shows.

Nate Little, the agency’s communications director, said that attendance at PAX East, which ran from Thursday through Sunday at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, "was just the same as last year, and in fact, Sunday was higher than last year.” Little said that PAX does not provide exact attendance data, but it did reveal that tickets were sold out.

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Little said that workers at the hall were constantly sanitizing handrails and other surfaces during the show, to reduce the risk of infection. He said that such precautions were already common during flu season. But this year, he said, "the volume and the show of force is very apparent, compared to what you usually see.”

He added that visitors seemed to be more cautious about touching people, with less high-fiving and handshaking than usual.

“The show went off without a hitch,” said Little. "We think Sony missed out.”

Sony, maker of the popular PlayStation 4 videogame console, had been expected to show off its successor, the PlayStation 5. Instead, the company opted out of the show, to avoid the risk of spreading coronavirus, which has infected more 200 people in Japan. Two other Japanese companies, Square Enix and Capcom, participated in the convention but kept their Japanese employees at home.

Fallout from the coronavirus epidemic has crippled trade shows and conventions worldwide. Last month saw the cancellation of Mobile World Congress, the huge wireless phone show in Barcelona; Facebook’s F8 conference in San Jose, Calif., and the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. And on Monday, Twitter said it would not attend the SXSW convention in Austin, Texas.

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Boston has several large events scheduled for March, including Seafood Expo, which the MCCA expects to attract about 20,000 visitors; a volleyball festival which may draw about 22,000; and Ace Comic Con, an entertainment convention with an anticipated turnout of about 35,000.

Little said that so far, none of the organizers of these gatherings have expressed any reservations about going forward. One reason, he believes, is that most of the upcoming meetings will attract a mostly domestic audience, with relatively few people coming from outside the US. The most vulnerable conventions have featured tech companies, many of them with operations in China or other areas hit hard by coronavirus.

The National Restaurant Association’s New England Food Show, which is expected to draw about 8.000 people, said it is set to go ahead as scheduled on March 22-24.

“We are not expecting any participants from the areas of severe infections, and we encourage everyone to make responsible decisions and stay home if they are sick,” said Stephanie Everett, chief operating officer of Exposition Development Company Inc.,
in an e-mail. “We currently see no reason to cancel or postpone the New England Food Show."

Marc Shepard, co-founder of the New England Cannabis Network, scoffed at the idea of cancelling his group’s convention, with an expected turnout of 22,000.

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“It’s crazy," Shepard said. "We could shut down our country’s economy, and I could stay home and just die, or we can use common sense.”


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.