AUSTIN, Texas — Fears of the coronavirus outbreak loom large over one of the most popular — and populous — music gatherings in America.
A petition launched on Change.org to cancel the sprawling SXSW Conference & Festivals because of coronavirus concerns swelled to more than 46,000 signatures by Wednesday evening.
Wednesday night, Variety.com reported that Netflix was officially out of the festival, canceling all of its scheduled screenings and panels. Earlier in the day, Apple announced it was out, canceling its screenings, including the much-anticipated world premiere of “Beastie Boys Story” by Spike Jonze. Late Tuesday, Amazon Studios also announced it had canceled plans to participate in SXSW.
The moves were the latest in a series of industry pull-outs from the 10-day gathering, set to begin March 13. SXSW draws about 400,000 people a year to discuss and celebrate the convergence of film, tech and music. It has never canceled in its 34-year history, organizers said.
On Monday, Facebook announced it was pulling out of the event and hours earlier Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, scheduled to speak at the conference, announced he was no longer attending the fest. China Gathering, a group of Chinese entrepreneurs, also said it would not attend the event.
In a letter posted to the China Gathering website, Vivian Forrest, the group’s founder and chief executive, expressed remorse for pulling out of SXSW because of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
“This has been a very difficult decision to make,” she wrote. “I sincerely believe that staying together and staying strong, we can find a way to stop the disease. Finger(s) crossed for a brighter and healthier future — and we look forward to being even more involved in next year’s SXSW!”
In a statement, a spokesman for SXSW said event organizers are in close contact with local, state and federal agencies to monitor the outbreak.
“As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority,” the statement said.
It continued: “There is a lot about COVID-19 that is still unknown, but what we do know is that personal hygiene is of critical importance. We hope that people follow the science, implement the recommendations of public health agencies, and continue to participate in the activities that make our world connected. That’s our plan.”
In Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance cut short its European tour in late February, after a virus outbreak virtually shuttered several towns in northern Italy where the dance company was scheduled to perform.
Mariah Carey earlier this week postponed an upcoming concert in Hawaii citing travel restrictions, while BTS, Avril Lavigne, and Green Day upcoming tour stops in Asia over coronavirus concerns. Canadian rockers Wolf Parade cancelled several European and U.K. dates; The National cancelled two March dates in Tokyo.
On Wednesday, the studios behind the new 007 film “No Time to Die” announced that its scheduled April release is being postponed until fall. Paramount Pictures last month halted production on the seventh “Mission: Impossible” film due to the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, as Hollywood began to more drastically adapt to the growing global outbreak.
IMPORTANT TOUR ANNOUNCEMENT pic.twitter.com/x6A9jVP1jB— Avril Lavigne (@AvrilLavigne) February 29, 2020
SXSW, which brought more than $355 million in economic impact last year, plans to go on with the majority of its scheduled programming, including talks with Hillary Clinton, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff and entertainer Janelle Monáe.
Austin resident Shayla Lee said she posted the online petition to stop the gathering because she was concerned by the sheer numbers expected at the event, which could bring infected travelers who may not show signs of the virus.
“There are still too many unknowns with this virus for anyone not to take extreme precautionary measures,” Lee said in an email. “Holding this event is highly irresponsible.”
Austin Public Health officials gave SXSW the green light to proceed.
“At this time, no health departments in the state have requested the cancellation of any gatherings as the current risk of person-to-person spread in their jurisdictions remains low,” it said on its website. “The health of the Austin community and those who visit our city is our highest priority. APH coordinates with South by Southwest (SXSW) annually to monitor and prepare for any public health emergencies during the festival —this year is no different.”
Much to our disappointment, in the interest of public safety our March 17+18 dates in Tokyo have been cancelled. Refunds will be available at the point of purchase from March 3 to March 31, 2020.— The National (@TheNational) March 2, 2020
We look forward to returning in the future and performing for our friends in Japan. pic.twitter.com/VHS6h0Y600
The global death count from the coronavirus has climbed past 3,000, and the number of confirmed cases topped 90,000. In the USA, six deaths and 100 cases have been reported. All U.S. deaths occurred in Washington state.
Across the nation, groups and corporations discourage global travel and rethink large gatherings. Cancellations based on coronavirus fears include:
• Facebook canceled the in-person portion of its F8 developer conference “to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on,” it said on the F8 website.
• Organizers canceled the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, scheduled to draw thousands to Denver this week, “due to rapidly escalating health concerns relating to the spread of the coronavirus disease,” according to its website.
• The world’s biggest mobile phone show, Mobile World Congress, canceled its gathering in Barcelona, Spain, after exhibitors and companies pulled out of the event.
• CERAWeek, one of the premier energy industry conferences, canceled its annual gathering in Houston, scheduled for next week.
State health officials confirmed three cases of the coronavirus in Texas. One of those patients was released from a quarantine center in San Antonio, then tested positive for the virus, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
The woman, an evacuee from Wuhan, China, ground zero for the outbreak, visited a San Antonio hotel and ate at a mall before being requarantined and testing positive.
Read more at usatoday.com; Contributing: Sun-Times reporter Miriam Di Nunzio