Facebook, Netflix and Twitter back out of South by Southwest over coronavirus fears

(HOUSTON) – – Facebook, Netflix and Twitter have joined the growing list of companies dropping out of the South by Southwest Festival set to take place in Austin, Texas, later this month amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The tech, film and music festival is slated to take place March 13 to 22. Officials said at a news conference Wednesday it’s still scheduled as planned despite concerns over COVID-19, and said that canceling the event wouldn’t make the community safer.

“Right now, there is no evidence that closing South by Southwest or other activities is going to make this community safer. We are constantly monitoring that situation,” Dr. Mark Escott, the interim medical director for Austin Public Health, told reporters. “One of the concerns is that if we shut down or make the recommendation to shut down South by Southwest, people will still continue to come here … but without that organizational structure that South by Southwest provides.”

Festival organizers are increasing the availability of handwashing and sanitizing stations as well as screening employees’ and volunteers’ temperatures to help allay anxieties over COVID-19, Escott added.

Also on Wednesday, health officials in Texas announced the state’s first confirmed case of coronavirus in Fort Bend County, outside of Houston.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was scheduled to be one of the event’s speakers, but his name no longer appears on the website.

“Twitter is implementing a mandatory global business travel restriction for our employees, effective immediately. This unfortunately includes SXSW,” a Twitter spokesperson told ABC News.

A Facebook spokesperson similarly said, “Due to concerns related to coronavirus, our company and employees will not be participating in SXSW this year.”

Netflix and TikTok also both confirmed to ABC News Thursday they would not be participating. Apple did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment, though Reuters reported the company also would be backing out.

Organizers and the city of Austin have faced widespread calls to call off the festival this year. A Change.org petition calling for it to be canceled had garnered nearly 50,000 signatures as of Thursday.

Calling off the festival would be a major blow to the local economy. The gathering injects up to $350 million into Austin’s economy, according to a 2018 analysis from Greyhill Advisors funded by South by Southwest.

South by Southwest did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on Thursday. In a statement on its website Monday, festival organizers said, “We are proceeding with the 2020 event with the health and safety of our attendees, staff, and volunteers as our top priority.” Organizers also outlined additional safety steps, such as microphone disinfection, they were taking this year.

As health officials warn against mass gatherings to prevent community spread, the coronavirus outbreak has already delivered a major blow to the conference and festival circuit. Major events including Facebook’s F8 Developers Conference, Google I/O conference and even the Geneva International Motor Show all have been canceled.

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