Note: The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea and Italy. Other destinations are not being recommended for canceling or postponing travel. The CDC instead recommends routine public health precautions such as avoiding contact with sick people and avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands. The CDC website will continue to make updates about any travel risks presented by the virus.
Amid the current fears that the current Covid-19 outbreak could become a global pandemic, a number of major tech and business gatherings have canceled their events. That includes Facebook's F8 developer conference, the Game Developer's Conference, and February's Mobile World Congress, an event that regularly attracts over 150,000 people to Barcelona, Spain.
Now, a Change.org petition is calling for the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, scheduled to start Friday, March 13, to be called off. The petition's creator says that "I believe that having an event like this is irresponsible amid an outbreak." So far, almost 18,000 people agree enough to co-sign. That's the number of people who have signed the petition as of Monday afternoon.
The festival's organizers, however, released a statement Sunday saying "there are no imminent plans to postpone any current events." The statement continues, saying that "SXSW is working closely on a daily basis with local, state, and federal agencies to plan for a safe event. As a result of this dialogue and the recommendations of Austin Public Health, the 2020 event is proceeding with safety as a top priority."
In addition, Twitter announced its CEO Jack Dorsey, who was scheduled to be a featured speaker at the event, will no longer attend. The company also stopped all "non-critical events and travel."
The public pressure on SXSW is a lesson for every company that it's time to have a plan in place to deal with a public-health event on this scale. Just last week, Bill Gates wrote that the outbreak is "an immediate crisis."
In a blog post, Gates wrote:
In the past week, COVID-19 has started to behave a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we've been worried about. I hope it's not that bad, but we should assume that it will be until we know otherwise.
Look, it's definitely not time to panic. For most people, common-sense measures like frequent handwashing, and avoiding contact with people known to be sick will help prevent the spread of disease. If you get sick, or someone in your family is sick, stay home. And, sure, it's probably not a terrible idea to skip the large gatherings of people from all over the world--at least for a bit.
If you're an employer, on the other hand, you have a responsibility to protect your team, which means doing what Twitter did and not put them unnecessarily at risk. The same goes for the organizers of SXSW. Just because there's no reason to panic, doesn't mean it's not time to be smart.