Austin Officials Call Off SXSW Over Coronavirus Fears

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Just one week before technology, political, music, film and other cultural leaders from around the world were to convene in Austin for South by Southwest, officials in Texas’ capital city said Friday the festival has been canceled over concerns about the coronavirus.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a “local disaster in the city” during a press conference Friday afternoon.

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren speaks at the South by Southwest festival on March 9, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (CNS Photo/Kelsey Jukam)

As of Friday, more than 55,000 people signed an online petition asking officials to cancel the festival to stem the spread of the contagious illness known as COVID-19, which was first detected in Wuhan, China on New Year’s Eve.

Seventeen COVID-19 infections have been confirmed in Texas so far. A few were reported in unincorporated areas northwest of Houston, and most are being treated at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, which has quarantined hundreds of evacuees from Wuhan and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The festival, abbreviated as SXSW, brought more than 54,000 American attendees, more than 19,000 international travelers and upwards of $356 million in revenue to Austin last year. It was slated to begin March 13.

A bevy of heavy-hitters had pulled out of SXSW in the weeks preceding Friday’s announcement, including CNN, Facebook, TikTok, Intel and Twitter.

“The City of Austin has cancelled the March dates for SXSW and SXSW EDU,” organizers wrote in a statement, referring to the conference component of the festival. “We are devastated to share this news with you. … We are exploring options to reschedule the event and are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants, starting with SXSW EDU.”

Festivals, conferences and conventions across the nation have been called off or rescheduled over fears about COVID-19’s spread, including Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, the American Bar Association’s National Institute on White Collar Crime in San Diego, Las Vegas’ Adobe Summit, Denver’s American Physical Society, San Francisco’s Game Developers Conference and Facebook’s F8 developers conference in San Jose.

Vox.com’s Recode, in tandem with data firm PredictHQ, predicts that the direct economic loss from the cancellation of just nine technology conventions already surpasses $1 billion, mostly affecting hotels, restaurants, airlines and other transportation companies. That figure that does not include the revenue that event organizers themselves lost.

There are now over 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the world and more than 3,400 deaths.

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