Austin cancels SxSW festival over coronavirus fears

Major participants such as Apple, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok pull out

The 34th annual South By Southwest festival of tech, music and film in Austin Texas is the latest victim of the coronavirus as it was announced by city officials on Friday that the event was being cancelled over concerns about the spread of Covid-19.

Due to increasing pressure from sponsors, participating artists as well as 50,000 members of the public who all signed an online petition, city officials and the festivals organisers said they had no choice but to pull the plug on the festival that puts the town on the global cultural calendar once a year.

It was inevitable as in the hours preceding the announcement, it was made public that many major participants, such as Apple, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok, had already announced their withdrawal.

While the city of Austin itself has not had an outbreak of the coronavirus - and the number of confirmed cases in Texas is still relatively small - SXSW attracts hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world including from areas currently most affected.

The city’s interim health authority and public health medical director, Dr. Mark Escott, said in a statement: “After careful deliberation, there was no acceptable path forward that would mitigate the risk enough to protect our community.”

This opinion was not shared by the festival organisers who issued their own statement. “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. . . 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 honour and respect the city of Austin’s decision.”

Ireland has always had a large presence at the SXSW festival and conference, both in the form of musical talent and emerging entrepreneurs.

But it is the Austin community who will suffer the most, many of whom rely on the massive revenue generated over the two weeks by attendees in need of food, accommodation, transportation and entertainment.

John Holden

John Holden

John Holden is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in science, technology and innovation