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SXSW conference canceled as coronavirus fears mount

South by Southwest, the annual, week-long tech, culture, and music festival based in Austin, Texas, has been canceled due to the spread of the coronavirus.

In a tweet Friday, SXSW officials said “We are devastated to share this news with you. ‘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.”

An Update on SXSW 2020. Please read our full statement here:

— SXSW (@sxsw) March 6, 2020

Austin health officials were ultimately the ones to make the call, according to the tweet.

The announcement does not come as a surprise for many, but more of a shock that it took so long.

.@mayoradler: Based on the recommendation of our public health officer, I’ve gone ahead and declared a local disaster. Issued order that all festivals cancelled

— Evan Smith (@evanasmith) March 6, 2020

For weeks, companies like Facebook, Twitter, Apple, WarnerMedia, Netflix, and Intel have announced plans to pull out of the event. And social media users urged SXSW officials to cancel the conference in the name of public health.

Replies from users on Twitter were hidden by the @sxsw account. Nearly 55,000 people signed a petition entitled “Petition to have SXSW canceled amid Coronavirus Outbreak.” Tweets hidden by SXSW’s Twitter page included calls to “announce the cancellation” and questions, like from user @EbertReginald, “All of these companies have canceled to protect their employees. Why are you not doing the same?”

You guys need to read the news. Cases starting to manifest all over the U.S. You really need to cancel this event.

— Thomas_144 (@thomas_144) March 6, 2020

Image used with permission by copyright holder

SXSW draws hundreds of thousands of people every year, and 17% of attendees come from the West Coast, according to the conference’s 2019 data, which is currently experiencing the country’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus. 

In Seattle and Silicon Valley, California, local schools have shut down and tech workers have been told to stay at home for up to two weeks. The state of Washington has since called a state of emergency after the first coronavirus death in the U.S. was announced last month. 

SXSW generates millions of dollars for the city of Austin and its local businesses. Last year, more than 55,000 hotel rooms were booked for the conference, bringing in $1.7 million in occupancy tax alone. And no doubt dollars were spent by attendees on food, transportation, and retail — Austin saw $356 million in total revenue from just one week of festivities.

So, it is understandable why the organizers behind SXSW were at first hesitant to cancel the event. 

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Meira Gebel
Meira Gebel is a freelance reporter based in Portland. She writes about tech, social media, and internet culture for Digital…
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