COVID-19 spread triggers event cancellations, airline fee waivers

Two women wear face masks as they walk on the sidewalk in New York City's Chinatown. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

March 3 (UPI) — A slate of major events have been called off across the United States, and airlines waived change fees as the spread of the COVID-19 virus continued to impact the U.S. economy Tuesday.

Meetings, conferences and trade shows were among the activities postponed or canceled as the number of reported cases rose in the United States, where six deaths and just over 100 cases across 15 states had been reported by health officials.

The U.S. technology industry, with its close links to hard-hit China, has seen the outright cancellation of several major conferences around San Francisco, including Facebook’s annual F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif. — the social media platform’s biggest event of the year — and its Global Marketing Summit, which had expected 5,000 attendees.

Also falling by the wayside was Google’s News Initiative Global Summit in Sunnyvale, Calif., and the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, which was canceled after Microsoft and other major companies pulled out.

Chicago lost a major trade show expected to draw 60,000 people to the city on Tuesday when the International Housewares Association announced it was canceling the Inspired Home Show at the McCormick Place convention center due concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.

The American Physical Society on Saturday canceled a weeklong meeting set for Denver “based on the latest scientific data available regarding the transmission of the coronavirus disease.” It was expected to draw 11,000 people from around the world.

Pressure was also mounting Tuesday to cancel one the U.S. music industry’s signature events — the South By Southwest festival in Austin. Key sponsors including Facebook, Intel and Twitter have pulled out, and an online petition calling for the event’s cancellation had collected 30,000 signatures.

Meanwhile, some U.S. airlines have agreed to waive change fees and are taking other steps to help travelers forced to change their plans due to flight cancellations related to the epidemic.

American Airlines, for example, will not charge a change fee for travelers who book flights between March 1 and March 16 and alter their plans, while United Airlines is waiving change fees and fare differences for travelers who book new flights to China, Hong Kong, South Korea and parts of Italy.


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