SXSW First Major U.S. Event Cancelled Over Coronavirus Concerns

Officials from Austin, Texas announced Friday the popular South by Southwest (SXSW) music and entertainment festival was cancelled due to concerns over the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.

In a statement released Friday, SXSW organizers announced that the city of Austin had cancelled the festival, which was due to open next Friday and run through March 22. This is the first time in the festival's 34-year history that the event has been cancelled.

"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," the organization said.

SXSW directed Newsweek to its website when asked for additional comment.

Actor and comedian Kumail Nanjiani applauded SXSW and Austin for cancelling the festival in the wake of concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

"Sxsw is one of my favorite festivals. Canceling it was the responsible thing to go. I know this sucks for many people for whom this was a massive opportunity. But we're kind of in an unprecedented situation here and caution is key. Thank you for the making the right decision," Nanjiani said.

Organizers say they're hoping to reschedule for later in the year, and are also working to "provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible."

SXSW is the largest music festival in the world, often bringing in over 2,000 acts to perform. Appearing at SXSW not only gives musicians the opportunity to appear to fans from all over the world, but it can boost their careers in other ways. Outside of thousands of music fans, the festival attracts a number of industry bigwigs.

"We're honestly heartbroken. On Monday, our Japan tour was canceled. On Tuesday, we confirmed an official showcase with SXSW. By Friday, we have nothing. It's devastating. But we understand. We're not shocked," Sophie Brochu of the band Fauvely told Newsweek. "We might spend a couple of days in the studio and get to work on recording the songs we were hoping to showcase."

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The punk band Otoboke Beaver plays at the 2019 SXSW festival. This year's SXSW has just been cancelled by organizers and the city of Austin, Texas. Hutton Supancic/SXSW

In addition to music, SXSW also hosts a film festival drawing major celebrities, as well as conferences that have attracted politicians including former President Barack Obama, who spoke at the festival in 2016.

"We understand the gravity of the situation for all the creatives who utilize SXSW to accelerate their careers; for the global businesses; and for Austin and the hundreds of small businesses – venues, theatres, vendors, production companies, service industry staff, and other partners that rely so heavily on the increased business that SXSW attracts," the festival said.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub. Wash hands: after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before; during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least one meter (three feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.

As of Friday, there were nearly 100,000 cases of COVID-19 throughout the world. The United States has at least 233 confirmed cases and 14 deaths. Though the virus has spread to every continent other than Antarctica, at least 55,444 people have recovered from the virus, and 119 countries have not detected any cases.

Coronavirus, COVID-19, Statista
The chart illustrates the spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. as of March 6. Statista