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It had been my intention this month to write about some of the work that BGCI has been doing to share botanic gardens collections data with the crop and forestry sectors. However, we have all been entirely overtaken by the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, and currently it is difficult to think about anything else because the outcomes for individuals, families and organisations are so uncertain. The constant news of death and disruption is fueling extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, exacerbating the impacts on public health, and resulting in irrational behaviour such as panic buying of food, toilet paper (!) and medicines. For botanic gardens and other recreational businesses, there is the additional anxiety brought about by plummeting visitor numbers and income – economic impacts that are likely to be more prolonged than the public health crisis. So what do we do, and what can we expect?

Soon, BGCI will launch a moderated discussion forum on our website through which we will be inviting you to tell us and the broader botanic garden community how you are managing the COVID-19 pandemic. We are starting this discussion with insights and approaches from members of BGCI’s International Advisory Council, which comprises directors of 32 botanical institutions in 16 countries on six continents. This means that some of our members are much further along in dealing with COVID-19 pandemic than others, and there are valuable lessons that we can learn from them.

Most Chinese gardens have been closed to visitors completely since Chinese New Year, and some have used the opportunity to develop and upgrade garden collections or construction, or to launch new, online services. For example, Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden launched an online, virtual cherry blossom tour of the garden that has been watched by 320 million people. A few gardens in less-affected areas in China have remained open to the public throughout the pandemic, allowing reduced numbers of visitors to get some respite from being locked up indoors. Now, two months later, many Chinese and Singapore gardens report that they are open again to visitors but have kept indoor attractions closed and require visitors to take protective measures. For example, in some gardens in China, visitors are required to wear masks, gardens measure visitor temperatures, and ensure that visitors maintain a distance of no less than 1 metre between each other in queues. Some gardens are also limiting capacity and reducing their hours of operation as well as requiring online ticket booking (through which visitors need to register to enter the garden by appointment in order that they can be traced). Last weekend, South China Botanical Garden, Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden and Singapore Gardens by the Bay reported that visitor numbers are back to near normal, albeit with a range of precautions still in place.

Keep an eye out for the launch of the BGCI COVID-19 forum, and you will hear this straight from our colleagues who are dealing with this crisis first hand. We will keep this running for as long as it takes – and eventually open it up to discuss everyday topics at botanic gardens. I hope it will give you hope and, at the very least, the reassurance that you are not alone.

– Paul

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