Thoughts on tango and the coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus COVID-9.jpg

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about how the tango community should respond to the coronavirus outbreak. By virtue of spending 12 minutes at a time in close embrace with someone, and doing that with perhaps ten or twelve different people in an evening, we clearly run a significantly greater risk of transmission than the average person.

The virus is already circulating in the European tango community, including a British tanguera who caught it there and is currently in the Royal Free (fortunately she is well enough to be posting on Facebook about it) …

The UK has had its first death. Although the total number of confirmed cases in London is only a little over 100, the actual number of infected people will be far higher. The 14-day incubation period means diagnosed cases will lag behind infections, and some people can be either asymptomatic or suffer such mild symptoms they won’t recognise it as COVID-9.

So clearly it is something British tanguer@s need to take seriously.

At the same time, from what we know so far, the risks are relatively low for most people.

coronavirus mortality.jpg

And here the undiagnosed cases work in our favour. For example, the worst-case age group here is 15 deaths per 100 diagnosed cases. But if 90% of the people out there suffering COVID-9 don’t know it, then the real mortality rate for that age group is 1.48%, not 14.8%.

All the same, it’s clear that things get serious for older people. Even a 1.48% mortality rate is not good. So what does all this mean for tango?

Clearly organisers will make their own decisions. Two London milongas have been suspended indefinitely over coronavirus fears: Mariposa and the Mayfair Milonga. One other, Carablanca, is closed for one week (at the time of writing).


Others are recommending precautions; Tango Space, for example, asks everyone to wash their hands on arrival, and avoid kissing hello.

Tango Space.jpg

(I’m not entirely convinced the ‘parada footshake’ will catch on, though!)

At Tango Terra tonight, they had proper high-alcohol hand sanitisers at the sign-in desk and in the toilets.

The two milongas that have cancelled indefinitely skew to an older demographic, and I think they are probably being sensible in erring on the side of caution. Carablanca is responding to what it believes to be a specific threat. I think for others, remaining open but advising commonsense precautions strikes the right balance.

Which brings us to tanguer@s: what approach should we take to risk assessment?

I’d say there are two factors. First, the likelihood of getting infected. Second, the likely consequences of that, for ourselves and for those physically close to us.

Personally, I work from home, which means I’m not in close proximity to lots of people in the day, nor do I commute in the rush-hour. I would thus assess my risk of infection as very low. Indeed, a milonga is the most likely place for me to get infected, so I only need consider that from the perspective of me being infected by others, rather than the other way around.

Regards the risk of getting infected at a milonga, I’m not in the three highest-risk age groups, nor do I have any relevant underlying health issues. So the chances are, if I got infected, it wouldn’t put my life at risk. I also don’t have regular close contact with anyone elderly or otherwise vulnerable, so I don’t have that secondary concern either.

Since I conclude that I’m not likely to be the source of an infection in a milonga, and the consequences of getting infected myself are very unlikely to be fatal, I’m currently comfortable continuing to go to milongas, taking only a few very basic precautions:

  • Obviously, I won’t go to a milonga if I feel unwell
  • I wear gloves outside, and avoid touching things on the tube, etc
  • I wash my hands with sanitiser on arrival
  • I already carry a handkerchief and cough into that if I need to, even if it’s just clearing my throat (something I’ve always done anyway)

However, we’re holding off on booking international festivals for now. We had planned to book for Lisbon, but we’re now waiting to see what happens.

Everyone else of course needs to make those two assessments for themselves: how likely are you to bring the infection into a milonga, and what would be the likely consequences if you did get infected? The answers to those two questions will, in my view, make it clear whether or not continuing to attend milongas is reasonable and safe.

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