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After 24 Hours of PR Hell, Anime Expo Has Reinstated Their COVID Policy

Closeup of a vial of COVID-19 vaccine.

Turns out, there are times when public outcries actually work! And it doesn’t just have to revolve around Ugly Sonic! Yesterday morning, Anime Expo — an indoor convention starting in less than a month which is expecting over 100,000 — said attendees would no longer require vaccination proof or a negative test. the account then proceeded to announce their first wave of panels. But no amount of programming announcements could bury the sudden change enough to distract outraged attendees. And so, about 31 hours later, Anime Expo released a new announcement on their Twitter: they would be reinstating the requirement for attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative test.

“AX family — we hear you,” the announcement begins. The Twitter account further assured attendees, “This policy is final,” which I’m not sure I can trust any more. My immediate reaction was to roll my eyes and shout into the void, “You should’ve been smart enough not to change the policy in the first place, you dummies!” But, still, my fellow Anime Expo and I attendees are feeling immensely relieved. It probably helps that “anime expo refund” was the top Google search surrounding the con yesterday. There was no way that policy was going to be good for anyone: not the attendees, not the exhibitors, not the organizers, not the reputation of the con itself. It would’ve only been a win for the novel coronavirus.

For context as why to the convention would reverse their announcement so quickly, here’s the original story from 6/8/2022:

In the COVID era (because it is still the COVID era), you have to plan very diligently and in advance if you want to go somewhere, attend something, and be responsible—unless, apparently, you are a big corporate entity hosting an event. It’s a pattern of entities in positions of power completely wrecking people’s long-planned personal efforts in the eleventh hour, which we’ve seen again and again in this backwards country. Less than a month out from the event, Anime Expo just casually announced an update to their COVID-19 policy. Turns out that while masks will be required, the gigantic indoor convention will no longer be asking for proof of vaccination or a negative test. And attendees (including this one) are angry.

On Twitter on June 8, 2022 (for a convention that begins July 1st), Anime Expo announced, “While face coverings will still be required inside the LACC, we will no longer be requiring proof of vaccination or negative test for entry.” Please note the words “no longer.” They indicate an active change that is unexpected and unwanted for many who had already made plans to attend. While many events in the U.S. have a bad habit of brushing off announcements like this as if they’re no big deal, they are, indeed, a big deal. In 2019, 115,000 people attended Anime Expo, which takes place in an indoor convention center.

Anyone attending Anime Expo has made their decision based on a calculation of risk, which took into account previously announced guidelines. If you change those guidelines less than a month out, the amount of risk involved in going to the event changes. For some attendees, this may mean that Anime Expo may now be no longer worth the risk. Add to this the high price of tickets, the cost of travel, the increased potential for international attendees to pay for quarantines, and any number of violations of risk calculation. In short, you have many people who are rightfully furious with the convention’s organizers for pulling the rug out from under them and potentially forcing them into a situation they did not originally sign up for.

To further add to this shitshow, according to the New York Times, cases are increasing in more than half the country, thanks largely to continual, very contagious spinoffs of the already contagious BA.2 variant. The Los Angeles Times points out that apparent declines in case rates may actually be misleading. At the very least, the story calls the new omicron sub-variants “wild cards.” COVID is still very much a thing. I would argue it’s disgustingly disrespectful of your staff, exhibitors, and attendees to make this kind of change on such short notice.

Outbreaks at cons have absolutely occurred during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean that going to a con has to be unsafe. Despite a case at Anime NYC making national news last year, it was since proven that the con was not a super spreader event. The attendee even thinks he caught COVID at an event outside the convention itself. It turns out, the secret was—oh, look at this!—VACCINATION VERIFICATION, MASKING, AND SOCIAL DISTANCING. What are the odds???!!!

My advice to anyone reading this and who is also pissed off is to keep the social media pressure on. Hopefully, Anime Expo will realize that they monumentally screwed up and reverse course here. Because if they don’t, they’re throwing a lot of people’s lives into turmoil. Here’s to hoping that they care.

(featured image: Matthew Horwood/Getty Image)

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Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.