SCOTLAND'S capital is coming to terms with the "heart-breaking" news that its summer festivals will not go ahead this year - costing the city hundreds of millions of pounds.

Festival organisers have confirmed that five of Edinburgh's biggest events have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which last year attracted a record audience of almost 250,000 people, will not go ahead in August, while the Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh Art Festival have also been axed for 2020.

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The August festivals, which attract a combined 4.4 million audience and more than 25,000 artists,writers and performers, is thought to be worth more than £300 million to Edinburgh's economy.

The tourism industry pumps around £1.4 billion into Edinburgh’s economy every year.

The city's economy is already under strain with many businesses forced to shut their doors as part of the coronavirus lockdown.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon labelled the news a "heart-breaking decision, but absolutely the right one".

She added: "It's another sign of how far-reaching the impact of this epidemic will be.

"We've agreed that some Scottish Government support for the festivals can be used for different purposes - such as ensuring that freelancers and artists are still paid.

"We will, of course, work with the festivals to ensure they return even stronger next year."

The festivals, which include more than 5,000 separate events, makes up the second biggest cultural celebration in the world, only behind the Olympics.

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, 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.

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

"Our thoughts are with the doctors, nurses, health and social care professionals on the front line, as well as all those affected by this dreadful pandemic. Our sympathies too are with the thousands of artists and participants directly affected by the decision – we will do everything we can to support you over the coming months."

She added: “Culture brings out the best in us. It gives the marginalised a voice, it shapes and reshapes how we think of ourselves and, crucially, it unites us.

"Since their inception in 1947 the Edinburgh festivals have existed to champion the flowering of the human spirit and, in the face of this truly unprecedented global emergency, we believe that this spirit is needed now more than ever.”

The exact impact on Edinburgh's economy is unknown - but hundreds of accommodation providers and partners including Edinburgh University, which tallied up almost £2.5 million in 2018 from the use of its facilities and buildings, rely on the events.

Liz McAreavey, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, has warned the city's economy will suffer “right through the year”.

She said: “We do need to start thinking about the future now.

“We have got through the initial shock of this - but we are increasingly becoming a festival city across the year. It’s now that the science and children’s festivals should be happening, but they have  been cancelled.”

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Ms McAreavey added: “What it exposes is the importance of tourism to the city.

"A huge number of businesses rely and benefit from tourism.

“It’s not just the hotels, bars and restaurants - but all the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers who supply them and businesses like venues and, of course, the airport.

“It’s not just Edinburgh that will feel this - it’s not good for the rest of the country.

“We need to think about what Edinburgh looks like when we come out of this. We don’t know how long this is going to last and whether we can even continue to plan for the winter festivals.”

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The Federation of Small Businesses warned that the cancellations  would "magnify an already desperate situation".

Entertainment venues are already suffering from the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Stand, an established venue and partner of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is streaming online comedy shows on Saturday evenings in an attempt to drum up support for a fundraising bid to keep the venue operating once the pandemic is over.

The Edinburgh Military Tattoo, which has gone ahead each August for the last 70 years, has cancelled its scheduled 25 shows.

Brigadier David Allfrey, Tattoo chief executive, said: “The pandemic is impacting across the world, the Tattoo – along with other major events and festivals – will need to carefully understand and adapt to whatever is our new normal.

“Now though, we judge it is impractical and undesirable to stage a Tattoo in anything like its normal form in August."