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Austin officials cancel South by Southwest festival

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin city officials have canceled the South by Southwest arts and technology festival.

Mayor Steve Adler announced a local disaster as a precaution because of the threat of the novel coronavirus, effectively canceling the annual event that had been scheduled for March 13-22.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, the county’s top elected official, said no one in the Austin area has been found to have the Covid-19 virus. However, South by Southwest was expected to have drawn an international audience into close quarters, posing a serious threat of contagion.

Festival organizers said in a statement that they were “devastated” by the necessity of the move.

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“ ‘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. We are working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation,” the organizers said in their statement.

The organizers noted that Austin Public Health had stated as recently as Wednesday 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 organizers said.

The announcement comes days after several high-profile companies, including Netflix, tech news outlet Mashable, video-based social media platform TikTok, and US chip maker Intel, pulled out of the festival.

More than 50,000 people had signed a petition seeking to get the festival canceled.

The festival drew 73,716 attendees last year, 19,166 of whom came from outside the US. Combined with SXSW’s gaming expo and education conference, the 2019 event drew 417,400 attendees, organizers said.