Liberal Democrats shelve spring conference due to coronavirus epidemic
The Liberal Democrats have cancelled their spring conference in the face of the coronavirus epidemic, the party has announced.
Acting leader Sir Ed Davey said the "highly unusual" circumstances of the disease's outbreak had prompted the move, with party bosses saying they expected to incur "significant costs" as a result.
The Lib Dem get-together had been expected to kick off in York on Friday and run until Sunday.
Former Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson - who lost her Commons seat in December's election - was due to deliver a farewell address.
But Sir Ed said: "In these highly unusual circumstances, we have come to the right conclusion to cancel conference."
He added: "Although it will be disappointing to many members, the party can come together again when the coronavirus threat is over and debate the issues our country faces.
"Liberal Democrats will continue to put forward our case for a more liberal progressive Britain and hold this Conservative government to account."
The move was confirmed in a letter to members from the party's president Mark Pack, conference committee chair Geoff Payne and president Mike Dixon.
They said: "Following careful consideration of the latest health advice and risks, the Federal Board has tonight decided to cancel our federal conference this weekend.
"It’s not a decision that was taken lightly as conference plays a key role in our democratic party as well as being an important training and information exchange event. However, the health of our members and supporters, the staff who work on conference and the wider public is far more important."
The three Lib Dem figures said the party would "have to incur significant costs and refunds" as a result of the cancellation, but said: "We hope though people will understand the priority being given to people’s health."
Members who have registered for the event will be refunded, the letter confirmed, although the Lib Dems are urging "members who can afford it" to considering waiving the refund and making it a donation to the party instead.
It comes after the World Health Organisation said it was now treating coronavirus as a pandemic, with the Lib Dem chiefs pointing out that other organisations had already begun to cancel events.
"We have also paid close attention to the public health advice from the NHS, and note that some of the advice, such as around keeping distant from people who are ill, is in practice very hard to follow given the format of our conference involves large numbers of strangers sitting close to each other for extended periods of time," the three officials said.