From concerts to Cannes to cars, major global events grapple with coronavirus uncertainty

As the coronavirus epidemic spreads around the world, companies and conference organizers are grappling with whether to proceed with events or urge attendees to stay home this year.

On Thursday, Facebook said it would cancel its biggest event of the year, the F8 developer conference, which had been scheduled for May 5 and 6 in San Jose, California.

“In light of the growing concerns around COVID-19, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel the in-person component of F8 this year, in order to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on,” Facebook said in a statement.

The event, which attracted more than 5,000 developers and creators from around the world last year, will instead be replaced with locally hosted events, videos and live-streamed content.

The Geneva International Motor Show, which was scheduled for March 5 to 15, was canceled on Friday after Switzerland’s Federal Council announced a temporary ban on events with more than 1,000 people until March 15. The Swiss auto show is one of the biggest events in the world for automotive enthusiasts, who attend each year to check out new models from high-end automakers and futuristic concept cars.

“The financial consequences for all those involved in the event are significant and will need to be assessed over the coming weeks,” said a statement on the Geneva International Motor Show’s website. “One thing is certain: tickets already purchased for the event will be refunded.”

Both cancellations come after Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile phone trade show, was canceled this month.

In Austin, Texas, SXSW 2020 organizers are proceeding with plans to host the annual music, film and interactive festival March 13-22.

“Where travel has been impacted, especially in the case of China, we are seeing a handful of cancellations. However, we are on par with years past in regard to registrants who are unable to attend,” a SXSW spokesperson told NBC News.

Still, there will be a heightened sense of alert.

“We are increasing our efforts to prevent the spread of disease per Austin Public Health’s recommendations,” the spokesperson said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide updates as necessary.”

The Cannes Film Festival will also continue as planned this year, despite the fact that a local resident tested positive for the coronavirus after travel to Italy, the organization said on Friday.

The festival, which attracts a heavy American presence each year, said in a statement that it was monitoring developments. “For now, the Cannes Film Festival staff continues to prepare the event that will take place from May 12 to May 23.”

Google is scheduled to hold its Google I/O conference for developers May 12-14 in Mountain View, California. Apple hasn’t yet announced a date for its Worldwide Developer Conference, which is typically held in June. Both companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether the coronavirus may alter these plans.

“We’re seeing a growing number of companies cancel their participation at international events and it has been extremely challenging for several trade shows,” said Ben Costantini, CEO of Startup Sesame, a Paris-based company that runs a global network of tech events. “Given the current situation, we believe it is still possible to host conferences with the right safety measures and strong sanitation protocols,” he said. “There is also an opportunity for companies offering online alternatives.”

Web Summit, a Dublin, Ireland headquartered company that hosts a series of technology conferences around the world, has been building and investing in online alternatives for years.

“There’s no reason for any tech conference to cancel outright in 2020. Tech conferences in particular should have no issue going fully online for a year,” Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave tweeted. “The tools exist. It’s great for the Earth. It’s just a question of imagination.”

Web Summit’s North American conference, Collision is scheduled for June 22-25 in Toronto and is expected to attract more than 35,000 attendees. A spokesperson told NBC News that they are closely monitoring any changes and are following the guidelines from Canadian health officials.

“There’s no reason for any tech conference to cancel outright in 2020. The tools exist. It’s great for the Earth. It’s just a question of imagination.”

“For a company that organizes conferences, we’re a little different. We’ve built our own software, and over many years, attendees have networked, connected and chatted using our apps, as well as watched all our talks live online,” a spokesperson told NBC News in an email. “Though this is a tool we use to enhance the offline experience, the current situation facing a number of events around the world has prompted us to think about ways in which we could potentially adapt, while still providing a valuable attendee experience.”

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