SXSW canceled, Dell World goes virtual due to coronavirus: 2020 tech conference cancellations and travel bans

Last Updated on by Segun Ayo

The World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to declare the current coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. But as the infectious disease continues to spread and public health concerns rise, the WHO categorizes the risk from the virus as “very high”. On Tuesday, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the novel coronavirus disease is more deadly than the seasonal flu, but appears to spread less easily.

As of Friday, health officials have reported more than 95,000 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease and over 3,200 deaths, including hundreds outside of mainland China (the epicenter of the outbreak). The virus has been detected in 86 countries and the overall effect on global health is till unknown. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 105,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 3,500 deaths. 58,000 people have recovered.

SEE: IT pro’s guidebook: Remote work (TechRepublic)

In the US, officials have reported more than 400 cases in 32 states and 20 deaths 17 in Washington state. On Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency after the first death was confirmed in the state. States of emergency had already been declared in Washington and Florida. During a Thursday press conference, Tennessee Governor Bill Less announced that state’s first confirmed case.

On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence announced that travelers coming into the US on direct flights from Italy and South Korea will be screened for symptoms, travelers from China were already being screened. On Thursday, the US Senate approved a bill to provide $8.3 billion in emergency supplemental funds for coronavirus response. President Donald Trump signed the bill at the White House on Friday.

According to the American Conservative Union (ACU), an attendee at the CPAC 2020 has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Both President Trump and Vice President Pence attend the event, but according to reports neither Trump nor Pence came into contact with the infect individual.

In last week’s Monday Morning Opener, Larry Dignan examined how the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is affecting global supply chains and consumer demand. On Friday he looked at how the disease may accelerate the future of work, including an increase in telecommuting, greater importance on video conferencing and digital collaboration technology, and less travel. As Larry wrote, “One thing is certain: The coronavirus is likely to mean the definition of business, as usual, will change.”

SEE: Coronavirus having major effect on tech industry beyond supply chain delays (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

While we won’t know the coronavirus’ effects on the overall nature of work for some time, one sector of the tech economy that’s already feeling an immediate impact is industry events. Whether as a result of travel bans, laws banning large gatherings, or an abundance of caution, officials are being canceling, postponing, or converting tech events to virtual events..leaving conference organizers, attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors scrambling to make alternative plans. Companies are also instituting travel restrictions for employees. So, I decided to use this Monday Morning Opener to compile a list of the events that have been called off, pushed back, changed format, or are being held as scheduled.

Note: The coronavirus’ effect on the tech industry is a rapidly-changing story. We will do our best to update this list as news of conference cancellations and travel restrictions breaks.

Also: Coronavirus: Effective strategies and tools for remote work during a pandemic 

Tech conferences canceled, postponed, or going virtual

SEE: Facebook cancels F8: How the coronavirus is disrupting tech conferences worldwide (TechRepublic)

Major tech companies institute travel restrictions and work-from-home policies due to coronavirus

As of February 29, 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued multiple travel warnings due to the coronavirus disease. The CDC recommends travelers avoid nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy.

Amazon is asking all staff in the Seattle and Bellevue area to work from home after an employee at the company’s Seattle headquarters tested positive for COVID-19. “We are recommending that employees in Seattle/Bellevue who are able to work from home do so through the end of the month,” Amazon told CBS News. Earlier, Amazon had asked all of its 798,000 employees to stop all nonessential travel, both domestic and internationally, immediately, according to an Amazon spokesperson.

On Friday, the University of Washington cancelled all in-person classes for the rest of the quarter. In a statement, the university said they would “resume normal class operations when spring quarter begins March 30, pending public health guidance.”

Microsoft has also asked employees to work from home until at least March 25. “Consistent with King County guidance, we are recommending all employees who are in a job that can be done from home should do so through March 25th,” the company said in a public statement. Microsoft also urged employee to “postpone travel to Puget Sound or Bay Area campuses unless essential for the continuity of Microsoft.” The company had already told employees to cancel non-essential business travel in “regions with active COVID-19.”

SEE: IT pro’s guidebook: Remote work (TechRepublic)

In addition to cancelling its annual F8 conference, Facebook has placed restrictions on employee travel. The company has also closed two buildings in Seattle after a contractor based in the city tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

After a Google employee in Switzerland tested positive for coronavirus, the company expanded employee travel restrictions. Twitter has canceled all non-essential employee travel until further notice, including CEO Jack Dorsey’s appearance at SXSW. On Monday, Twitter also asked employees, which the company refers to as Tweeps, to work from home if possible. “We are operating out of an abundance of caution and the utmost dedication to keeping our Tweeps healthy,” the company said in a blog post.

On Monday, Salesforce announced a series of employee health and safety measures for the month of March, “including prohibiting cross border travel, restricting all but the most critical domestic travel, replacing our in-person customer events with digital experiences, and enhancing our office protocols to ensure we provide the healthiest work environment possible.”

On Wednesday, March 4, IBM announced travel restrictions, suspending domestic travel for internal meetings and for external events with more than 1,000 people. International travel will be limited to “business-critical situations when virtual methods are insufficient.” The company is also requiring employees to self-quarantine if they travel to restricted locations. “If IBMers have personal travel to restricted locations, they must inform their manager and must self-quarantine for 14 days after their trip is completed, per recommendations by health organizations,” IBM said in a statement.

Apple,  and others have also implemented employee travel restrictions.


The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet’s global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.

Updated March 2, 2020: Updated coronavirus information, added information about Salesforce, added information about Twitter’s employee travel restrictions and updated list of conference cancellations.

Updated March 3, 2020: Added information about Twitter’s work from home announcement and updated the list of conference cancellations and reordered alphabetically by conference name.

Updated March 4, 2020: Updated coronavirus information, US screening plans, and the list of conference cancellations.

Updated March 5, 2020: Updated coronavirus information, corporate travel restrictions, and conference cancellations.

Updated March 6, 2020: Updated coronavirus information and conference cancellations.

Updated March 7, 2020: Updated coronavirus information, added information about the University of Washington cancelling in-person classes and updated conference cancellations list.

Updated March 8, 2020, 4:03pm EST: Updated coronavirus information, CPAC, and updated conference cancellations list.

Coronavirus Updates