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Edinburgh Festivals Canceled as Coronavirus Effects Stretch Into Summer

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LONDON — The Edinburgh International Festival, a showcase for the best of world theater, dance and music that has been held in the Scottish city every year since 1947, has been canceled because of the coronavirus.

So has the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a scrappier event devoted to comedy and theater, which bills itself as the world’s largest arts event.

The Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Edinburgh Art Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, an event involving armed forces bands from around the world, won’t take place this year either.

The cancellations, announced on Wednesday in a news release, are the latest sign that the pandemic’s impact on the world’s cultural calendar will last at least into summer.

The International Festival was first held in 1947, with the aim of uniting people through culture in the aftermath of World War II. The other festivals and events sprung up around it, establishing Edinburgh as a popular August tourist destination.

“Since their inception in 1947, the Edinburgh festivals have existed to champion the flowering of the human spirit, and in the face of their truly unprecedented global emergency, we believe that this spirit is needed now more than ever,” Shona McCarthy, the chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said in a statement.

“Having taken advice and considered all the options,” she said, “we collectively believe this is the only appropriate response.”

According to the release, the 2019 Fringe involved over 30,000 performers, from school groups to star comedians, who took part in 3,841 shows. Ms. McCarthy said the festival’s organizers would do all they could to support “the thousands of artists and participants directly affected by today’s decisions.”

The Edinburgh International Book Festival’s organizers said they would “program a series of online events” to run in place of this year’s events.

Since mid-March, the coronavirus has been bringing the shutters down on Britain’s cultural life. On Mar. 23, the country was put on a virtual lockdown, with people urged to go outside only for essential trips, such as for buying food or for one session of exercise a day. The police have been using drones to enforce the measures and shaming some transgressors on social media.

Some major summer cultural events, including the Glastonbury music festival, held each June, had already announced they would not go ahead, but the Edinburgh cancellations will come as a major blow to people who had hoped that later events would be unaffected.

Their cancellation was not the only sign this week that cultural events in Britain will feel the virus’s impact later than many hoped. The Barbican arts center in London said on Wednesday it would remain closed until at least July.

Looking at how long social distancing measures are likely to be in place, we feel we’re very unlikely to be open until at least the end of June,” Nicholas Kenyon, the venue’s managing director, said in a news release.

“We therefore felt the best approach,” he said, “was to inform audiences, as well as the artists and organizations we work with, as soon as we could.”


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