Memories of Togetherness

Reflecting on last year's ESCRS Winter Meeting as we look to the future

Aidan Hanratty

Posted: Monday, March 1, 2021

This time last year many of us were preparing to travel to Marrakech in Morocco for the 24th ESCRS Winter Meeting.  The multiple pleasures of travel to new locations, seeing old friends and advancing knowledge make international conferences a wonderful experience.

These have been lost, like many other aspects of life we may have taken for granted, in the wake of COVID-19. Perhaps this loss is temporary, but perhaps our lives will be changed utterly. For now, we sit at home and log on to catch up on the latest science and technology.

Marrakech sees temperatures of up to 37 degrees Celsius in summer and in February it gets to a balmy 20 degrees, perfect for those of us in more temperate or extreme climates who might be used to colder, wetter weather throughout the winter. Getting to walk around in the sunshine without bundling up was a treat we wouldn’t enjoy again until a brief summer came some months later.

While the novel coronavirus disease was named COVID-19 on February 11, and guidance was issued regarding handwashing and general advice regarding cleanliness and vigilance, COVID-19 was only declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020.

With that announcement, workplaces around the world sent their staff home and governments prepared for the worst. Words like lockdown and social distancing became commonplace. It was a world away from the togetherness and camaraderie of the Winter Meeting.

For many it was the last opportunity to spend time with friends and colleagues, to enjoy restaurants safely and to sit back and learn from experts in the field of ophthalmology surrounded by a crowd of fellow interested parties.

A snake wrangler in the main square of Jemaa el-Fnaa

This would be the last chance to browse eposters and discuss ideas with colleagues, to examine new offerings from companies at the exhibition.

A short drive from the conference centre, the historic Jemaa el-Fnaa is the centre of Marrakech’s medina, a hive of activity with snake charmers and salesman, selling everything from pottery and clothing to drums and cuddly toys (some of the items this writer came home with).

Tourism came to a halt in mid-March with the country declaring a state of emergency. Tourists and traders alike will look back at this time with bittersweet memories.

The 25th ESCRS Winter Meeting Virtual 2021, in conjunction with the Polish Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, will take place online from 19-21 February.  While these virtual meetings mean we miss out on seeing new places, they do mean we can avoid the time-consuming travel that such conferences entail.

While we can’t meet friends for a drink, we can switch off the laptop after a meeting and go down and see family, not missing them for days at a time. If you miss out on one of the talks for any reason, you can always catch it on demand for a month after the event.

We all look forward to the day we can meet again, to shake hands and embrace one another. Until then, let’s make the best of all the digital realm has to offer.

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