Covid uncertainty and Delta variant outbreaks across the country have forced the ACT government to weigh up its options when it comes to the feasibility of this year's Floriade festival.
While a final decision on the annual floral festival in Commonwealth Park is yet to be be made, contingency plans are being developed in the event Covid restrictions force Floriade to be scaled back or even cancelled.
The four-week event, set to begin on September 11, is set to be the first Floriade held since 2019, after last year's festival was cancelled.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced in April the flower display would return this year, but growing numbers of Covid cases in recent weeks and lockdowns in three states have led to uncertainty about how the event would be run.
An ACT government spokeswoman said extensive planning processes were being undertaken for Floriade and the accompanying NightFest.
"This process takes into account the current situation, potential changes in Covid restrictions and the impact these may have on delivering the events," the spokeswoman said.
"We are engaging with Floriade's commercial operators, vendors, stallholders, suppliers and entertainers to determine the potential impacts of each scenario and the critical timeframes for decision-making.
"Information about arrangements for Floriade will be made available in coming weeks as this work is completed and the potential impacts of Covid restrictions in other states on the event is clearer."
Thousands of bulbs have already been planted across Commonwealth Park in preparation for the start of the festival in spring.
Floriade represents one of the biggest events on the calendar for the ACT tourism sector, bringing in more than $44 million to the territory's economy when it was last held in-person during 2019. While roughly half of the annual visitor numbers to Floriade come from Canberra and the capital region, one of the largest markets is Sydney, which is in the middle of a lockdown triggered by rising numbers of coronavirus cases.
Canberra Regional Tourism Leaders Forum chair David Marshall said changes to Floriade would have a significant impact on the ACT's tourism sector, which had already been hit hard by Covid.
"It would be shattering, because we rely significantly on major events in Canberra," Mr Marshall said.
"Floriade is one of the largest events because it runs for four weeks and there's a significant economic benefit.
"The Delta outbreak has certainly thrown a spanner in the works for Floriade and other major events later this year that are already being planned."
National Capital Attractions Association president Mark Sarah said tourism and accommodation in Canberra were betting on Floriade to draw in large numbers following low visitor figures during the most recent school holidays.
"We missed out on July, which was shaping up to be very strong, and the sector was tracking at 25 per cent of what it should have been," he said. "There would still be the opportunity for it to go ahead even a week later or so, because all of the blooms are planted and it would be good to keep it going."
While epidemiologists and health authorities have said outdoor events are safer compared to indoor gatherings, Australian National University infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon said it may take until late September or mid-October before the current Delta outbreak could be suppressed.
"However, even if we get rid of other outbreaks, it is easy for another one to come and start the whole process again," he said. "Come October, we will be in a better position because more will have been vaccinated."
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