The Blockchain Africa conference kicked off on Wednesday in Johannesburg, South Africa, despite rising concerns about the Coronavirus outbreak.
South Africa’s first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at the beginning of the month. As of March 11, thirteen South Africans have tested positive for the virus.
Despite the relatively low infection rate in the country, the South African government has taken a proactive and cautious approach to the virus. They have based their considerations on the dire situation in countries like China and Italy.
Nevertheless, the ongoing crisis and travel restrictions have led to some difficulties for Blockchain Africa’s attendees. Multiple day-one speakers were struck from the official programme, and Cardano founder and keynote speaker, Charles Hoskinson, cancelled his trip to South Africa entirely.
Tone Vays, the renowned cryptocurrency investor, carried out his commitment as one of the key speakers at the event, having travelled to South Africa more than a week before Blockchain Africa commenced.
During a panel discussion, Vays acknowledged that the global situation surrounding Coronavirus could potentially have a direct effect on the cryptocurrency markets:
"I could see that as being pretty bad for Bitcoin. We are already seeing massive global economic disruption that is affecting global markets. If there is a huge economic disruption, company's close and people stop investing. People won't be speculating on Bitcoin. If you lose your job, you're not going to be buying Bitcoin, you'll probably sell it to put food on the table."
The conference is being hosted at Investec’s Johannesburg headquarters. Initially, Organizers expected over 500 delegates to attend the two day summit.
Event organiser, Sonya Kuhnel, told Cointelegraph that just under 300 delegates had been expected on day one. However, only around 230 people had officially registered by the time the event got underway.
Mention was also made of Coronavirus' anticipated effect on the global economic markets. Richard de Sousa, founder of local cryptocurrency exchange, AltCoinTrader, told Cointelegraph that the noticeably low attendee numbers were likely due to the viral outbreak:
“I think the conference was pretty well timed, considering that the Coronavirus isn’t that bad yet. I think if we had this conference a couple of months we would have seen a lot worse. But it has taken a toll on the numbers of attendees this year.”
De Sousa also conceded that the tough economic climate could have some sort of effect on trading volumes, in part due to the virus’ impact on different countries.
Binance South Africa Country Manager, Tanya Knowles, serves as MC for the event. She admitted that the escalating situation had made things difficult over the past few days:
"Luckily with technology we were able to go ahead with the conference, with some speakers choosing to send in pre-recorded presentations, while some delegates opted to watch the livestream. But the Coronavirus has put some stress on the organisers."
Frisco d’Anconia, founder of African Blockchain University, travelled from Mauritius to attend the conference. He stated that he had not been put off by Coronavirus fears:
"I'm not worried about the situation. I think it's being overhyped. In my line of work, if I don't travel, I can't make money."