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Austin cancels SXSW and organisers concede they have no insurance to cover it

The city of Austin in Texas has cancelled its major tech and music festival South By Southwest (SXSW) that typically attracts around 400,000 people.

Slated for March 13-22, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the decision was based on concerns around coronavirus (COVID-19), despite the fact there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Travis County.

“Based on the recommendation of our public health officer and our director of public health . . . I’ve gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city and associated with that, have issued an order that effectively cancels SXSW,” said Adler.

The organisers of the SXSW said they will “faithfully follow the City’s directions” and were exploring options to reschedule the event.

“We are devastated to share this news with you,” they said. “‘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 now working through the ramifications of this unprecedented situation.

“And [we] are working to provide a virtual SXSW online experience as soon as possible for 2020 participants, starting with SXSW EDU.

“For our registrants, clients, and participants we will be in touch as soon as possible and will publish an FAQ.”

SXSW co-founder Nick Barbaro has also confirmed that SXSW does not have cover for cancellation insurance relating to a disease outbreak.

“We have a lot of insurance (terrorism, injury, property destruction, weather). However, bacterial infections, communicable diseases, viruses and pandemics are not covered,” he stated.

SXSW’s non-insured status for the cancellation is unaffected by the fact that the event’s closure was actually triggered by Austin city representatives declaring a “local state of disaster”, according to Barbaro.

SXSW co-founder and managing director Roland Swenson confirmed their dire predicament.

“We have a lot of insurance (terrorism, injury, property destruction, weather). However, bacterial infections, communicable diseases, viruses and pandemics are not covered,” she said.

Only three days ago, Adler stated at a press conference that “there’s no evidence that cancelling SXSW makes us safer”.

But a petition to cancel the 2020 conference had already reached 54,000 signatures. Many of the event’s highest-profile sponsors, speakers and party organisers, from companies including Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, Vevo and TikTok, had all cancelled events and speaking appearances by their employees.

SXSW had been refusing to offer refunds to trade show booth-buyers and attendees, with a full-access platinum badge for the conference costing US$1550.

The news comes just days after the cancellation of the Miami’s three day Ultra Music Festival, and has cast serious doubt on this year’s Coachella music festival in southern California.

SXSW last year was worth an estimated US$356 million to the Austin economy, while Coachella’s economic impact is estimated to be around US$1 billion worldwide.

The number of confirmed infections in the US has climbed to over 200 spread across at least 18 states.