All of Edinburgh's traditional August festivals have been postponed due to the Coronavirus, it has been announced. 

The Edinburgh International Festival, the Fringe, the Art Festival, the International Book Festival and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo have been scrapped amid concerns over the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is the first time the festivals have been completely postponed in their 70-year history.

The festivals have attracted a combined audience of more than four million in recent years and are thought to be worth more than £300 million to the economy.

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Festival organisers held crisis talks with the Scottish Government and City of Edinburgh Council over the past few weeks as the pandemic developed.

However, the decision was taken to scrap the events over the safety of locals, performers and visitors.

Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society described the move as “heartbreaking,” but admitted it was the “only appropriate response” to the outbreak.

She added: “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. 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.

“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."

Figures released by the Centre for Economics and Business Research in August last year estimated the programme of festivals was worth around £1bn to the Scottish economy.

However, fears over the rapid expansion and ‘over commercialisation’ of public spaces were raised by thousands of locals last year.

Fergus Linehan, director of the Edinburgh International Festival, 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.

“The Edinburgh International Festival was born out of adversity – an urgent need to reconnect and rebuild. The current crisis presents all at the Festival with a similar sense of urgency. Work begins straight away on a 2021 Festival season that will boost both our spirits and our economy.

“As we observe our essential social distancing we can, I hope, look forward to being back together soon: sharing brilliant music, theatre, dance, literature and art from the greatest creative minds of our time. Until then, thank you for all your good wishes and keep safe in the coming months.” 

A combined audience of 4.4 million attended the festival programme in 2019, according to figures released last year.

Around 220,000 tickets for the spectacular Royal Military Tattoo showcase had already been made available, with the majority snapped up quickly after going on sale in December.

Hundreds of briefs for Fringe shows had also been sold.

Brigadier David Allfrey MBE, chief executive of the Tattoo said: “In the first instance, we have sought to comply carefully with Government advice and guidance in looking after our customers, staff, suppliers, stakeholders and all those who rely on our annual success and charity. In addition, we have been looking at how best to make a wider and constructive contribution to the national, regional, municipal and individual effort.”

He added: “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. 

“We are keen to do this as a great many people have come to rely on our annual routines for their livelihood and their entertainment, with an associated benefit that stretches internationally and across Scottish and UK tourism. Now though, we judge it is impractical and undesirable to stage a Tattoo in anything like its normal form in August.”

Speaking at Holyrood on Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed a further 16 people had died after being diagnosed with the condition, taking the Scottish death toll to 76.

Over 2,300 people are now confirmed to have the highly contagious disease, with 147 of those in intensive care.

Edinburgh International Festival bosses were already forced to scrap their official programme launch in March, while the Fringe initially postponed its launch until July - less than a month before the festival was due to take place.

Council leader Adam McVey said the capital was now focused on hosting a full programme of events in 2021.

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He added: “The most important consideration is the health of our residents and the safety of everyone in the City. We’re all working closely together as a city and internationally with the common purpose of protecting each other, whilst taking up our shared responsibility for planning towards our recovery. 

“With that in mind, we’re looking at every feasible option to help to sustain our key sectors, including the festivals, and have committed to honouring all grant payments due to our cultural partners for the current year, and to the repurposing of these, as required. We’ll do everything we can to assist our world-renowned cultural sector to remain at the centre of the city’s identity going forward.

“We’re incredibly proud to be known as the world’s Festival City and must never forget the positive contribution our festivals make to our lives, bringing art to Edinburgh in a way no other city enjoys. We’ll continue to work with all of our citizens, colleagues and stakeholders to do everything we can to make sure we come through 2020 and look forward to again bringing the world to Edinburgh and Edinburgh to the world for our summer festivals in 2021.”

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