Festival organisers in Edinburgh have pulled the plug on five major events this summer, including the International Festival and the Fringe, over concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
It is the first time in its 70-year history that the world’s biggest arts festival will not take place, with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Art Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo also cancelled due to fears that they will help spread the virus.
With 5,000 events taking place throughout August, the five festivals between them attract over almost half a million visitors to the Scottish capital each year, as well as 25,000 performers from over 70 different countries.
Nick Barley, director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “This is not a decision we have taken lightly, however the safety of not only our authors, our audiences, our staff and our suppliers, but also that of the people who live and work in our wonderful city, is of paramount importance and we believe that planning to bring large numbers of people from all over the world together in Edinburgh in August is not appropriate this year.”
Addressing the Scottish Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the cancellation as “heartbreaking, but the right decision”.
The Scottish Government is now looking at ways to support artists, performers and seasonal staff now left without work, with the redistribution of festival funding a mooted possibility.
Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, also offered a message of reassurance to those impacted by the cancellations.
“The safety of participants, audiences, local residents and indeed everyone connected to our festivals will always come first. Our thoughts today are with the doctors, nurses, health and social care professionals on the front line, as well as all those affected by this dreadful pandemic,” she said.
“Our sympathies too are with the thousands of artists and participants directly affected by today’s decision – we will do everything we can to support you over the coming months.”
The various organisations in charge of the five festivals now face the problem of refunding those who have already purchased tickets.
“Financially this has not been straightforward – as the small charity that underpins the Fringe we receive very little public subsidy – but we believe that offering refunds is the right thing to do and will turn this around as quickly as possible,” said Ms McCarthy.