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Edinburgh’s summer festivals cancelled due to coronavirus outbreak

Street performers will not be seen in Edinburgh this summer (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Street performers will not be seen in Edinburgh this summer (Andrew Milligan/PA)

A string of summer festivals in Edinburgh have been cancelled for the first time in more than 70 years following concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

The International Festival, Festival Fringe, Art Festival, International Book Festival, and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo will no longer take place as planned in 2020.

Together, the five August festivals comprise more than 5,000 events across Scotland’s capital each summer featuring more than 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries and attracting audiences of 4.4 million.

Festival organisers said the cancellation is “heart-breaking” but believe it is the only possible decision amid safety concerns.

The head of Edinburgh International Festival said work is starting on planning for 2021.

Organisers of the Edinburgh International Book Festival are looking at holding a programme of online events in the summer and both it and the Edinburgh Art Festival have vowed to return next year.

Shona McCarthy, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society chief executive, said: “It’s heart-breaking that the Fringe and our sister August festivals will not take place as planned this summer.

“However, having taken advice and considered all the options, we collectively believe this is the only appropriate response.

“The safety of participants, audiences, local residents and indeed everyone connected to our festivals will always come first.”

She said “everything we can” will be done to support the thousands of artists and participants affected by the cancellation.

Edinburgh Festival 2019
The festivals stage thousands of cultural events across Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Fergus Linehan, Edinburgh International Festival Director, said: “We are hugely disappointed to announce this cancellation but given the current outlook we believe it is the correct decision.

“We recognise that Edinburgh’s festivals play a very important role in the cultural, social and economic lives of our city and country, and this decision has not been taken lightly.

“Our thoughts are with all the country’s key workers and we hope that we can celebrate your heroic efforts when this awful pandemic has passed.”

He added: “Work begins straight away on a 2021 Festival season that will boost both our spirits and our economy.”

In a joint statement, Edinburgh City Council leader Adam McVey and  his depute Cammy Day said: “This was a profoundly difficult decision – leaving a massive gap in our capital – but clearly it was the right one.

“Our thoughts are very much with all those fantastic artists, writers, performers and organisations who were working so hard to prepare for another busy festival season.”

He said all grant payments due to “our cultural partners” for the current year will be honoured, and repurposed as required.

Speaking at Holyrood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the cancellation is “heartbreaking but the right decision”.

She said the Scottish Government is looking at redistributing support given to the festivals to ensure artists and freelancers are paid, pledging help to ensure they return “even stronger”.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said: “Like so many people in Scotland and across the world, I am hugely disappointed that Edinburgh’s August festivals have taken the decision to cancel for this year.”

He said the right decision given the “unique challenge” the pandemic poses and he has “no doubt” the festivals will return in 2021.

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