Enrichment Arts & Culture

17,000 people ask to cancel SXSW amid coronavirus outbreak

A view of downtown Austin, Texas, during the SXSW 2018 festival, which is advertised on a banner near a lane blocked for festival traffic.

Story at a glance

  • Thousands of people are expected to congregate in Austin, Texas, in March for the SXSW conference and festivals.
  • A petition is calling for the event to be cancelled over fears of the novel coronavirus spreading in the U.S.
  • Austin Public Health and the event’s organizers said there are no plans to cancel the event.

From the Louvre in Paris to Disneyland in Tokyo, countries are shutting down major tourist attractions to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. But as the first two deaths due to COVID-19 were announced in the U.S., thousands are still expected to arrive in Austin for the SXSW conference and festival on March 13. 

On March 2, the event’s organizers announced an event featuring Hillary Clinton, Adam Schiff and Anita Hill in a lineup that already features Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other major political figures. Meanwhile, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has cancelled his appearance as the company suspended all noncritical business travel and events due to concerns about the outbreak, along with China Gathering

A petition to cancel the festival, which more than 200,000 people attended in 2019, raises concerns about “hundreds of thousands of people” traveling to Austin as COVID-19 continues to spread in the country. 

“I believe that having an event like this is irresponsible amid an outbreak,” wrote Shayla Lee, who started the petition on Feb. 27. By March 2, there were more than 17,000 signatures calling upon the CDC, Austin Public Health, Gov. Greg Abbott and SXSW to cancel the event. 

Austin Public Health (APH) said there are “no imminent plans to postpone any current events,” including SXSW, in a statement on the festival’s website, adding that March is not a peak international travel month for the area. 

“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,” APH said. “While in flu season, APH is working with SXSW to disseminate disease prevention messaging to help keep attendees and the entire Austin community safe.”

APH said they are working with the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prepare for any local cases of COVID-19. The SXSW website lists safety measures for attendees to take, emphasizing personal hygiene. 

“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,” said a statement on their website.