South by Southwest is officially canceled after much speculation over fears of coronavirus.
The annual music festival-turned tech and media event released a statement Friday afternoon saying the city of Austin, Tex., where the event is held, decided to cancel SXSW, scheduled to begin next weekend. This is the first time in 34 years of the event that it will not take place, organizers said, and it appears to be the first instance of a U.S. city intervening to cancel a large event. SXSW draws more than 150,000 people to Austin for a weekend of performances, panels and branded events.
“We are devastated to share this news with you,” the statement reads. “’The show must go on’ is in our DNA.…We are now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.”
The so-called “unprecedented situation” is the feared spread and effects of COVID-19, better known as coronavirus, a flu-like virus that has gripped public consciousness in the last several weeks as it spread from an epicenter in China to most continents and roughly 100,000 confirmed cases of the disease.
SXSW is just the latest event to be canceled over the virus, but organizers noted that, “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,” SXSW said. “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.”
As of yet, there are no new dates for the event.
Other major annual events to be canceled over coronavirus include Google I/O, Facebook’s F8 event and Mobile World Congress. Google also canceled its first News Initiative Summit and Disney called off this week’s press day in London for the European launch of its Disney+ streaming service. There’s even rampant speculation that this year’s summer Olympic Games, set to take place in Japan, will be rescheduled, though officials have, to this point, insisted the Games will go on as planned. Officials of the Cannes Film Festival in May are also holding firm that the event will go on. Up until Friday, SXSW had been a major hold out as well.
All told, according to a report in Vox based on data analysis from PredictHQ, the economic impact from canceled conferences and the related travel and consumer spending is estimated to be around $500 million.
The World Health Organization has yet to declare coronavirus a global pandemic, but did declare it an emergency. The virus is a respiratory illness and is described by WHO as generally “mild,” although one in five of those affected are thought to be in need of hospital care, typically the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. Although 3,200 people worldwide are thought to have died from the virus, leaving the current WHO estimated death rate of around 3 percent, there is still no accurate rate of death for the disease given there is no exact number of cases of the illness.
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