Fears of the coronavirus outbreak are looming over every part of the world, including the United States where festival season (which means big crowds) is just getting started.
Up until today, Austin's biggest festival SXSW was set to move ahead with its plans, despite coronavirus fears. But now, South by Southwest 2020 has been canceled, Austin Mayor Steve Adler announced. “I’ve issued an order that effectively cancels South by Southwest,” Adler said during a press conference earlier today. “There was no path forward that would mitigate the risk enough to protect our community.”
SXSW released an official statement to confirm the cancellation too. “SXSW will faithfully follow the city’s directions. We are devastated to share this news with you,” it reads. “‘The show must go on’ is in our DNA, and this is the first time in 34 years that the March event will not take place.”
It continues: "As recently as Wednesday, Austin Public Health stated that 'there’s no evidence that closing SXSW or any other gatherings will make the community safer.' However, this situation evolved rapidly, and we honor and respect the City of Austin’s decision."
This article has been updated from its original to reflect new information.
South by Southwest, is just a few weeks away (March 13-22), and rumors have already been swirling that the mega-gathering might be cancelled after a petition launched on Change.org to skip SXSW this year due to coronavirus concerns. To date, the petition has over 25,000 signatures on it.
But SXSW organizers are getting ahead of the news and clearing things up.
"SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event," organizers said in an update on their website on March 1. "As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority."
In the same update on their site called “COVID-19 attendee information” they offered up common tips from The World Health Organization for attendees to keep their hygiene tip-top ahead and during such a large event. Tips include washing hands for 20 seconds and using alcohol based hand sanitizer; covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing; discarding of any tissues immediately into a closed bin; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; and staying home or in your hotel if you have a fever. They also noted that at this time, “no health departments in the state have requested the cancellation of any gatherings as the current risk of person-to-person spread in their jurisdictions remains low.”
Some headliners, however, have pulled out of the event in light of the respiratory illness outbreak. “At this time, there are a handful of cancellations from participants who were traveling from China and Japan and there have been a few corporate travel bans,” explain SXSW officials.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who was scheduled to speak at the conference as a keynote, pulled out of the event after a company-wide ban on all "non-critical travel" . China Gathering, a grouping of Chinese entrepreneurs that attended the festival annually, also pulled out in February.
COVID-19, or coronavirus, has infected more than 89,000 people worldwide. Large-scale conferences including Facebook’s F8 in San Jose, California, the Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, have all been called off.