- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2020

LONDON (AP) - Every August, the Scottish capital of Edinburgh plays host to some of the funniest and most talented - not to forget strangest - performers from the U.K. and the wider world. Not this year. Organizers canceled the city’s collection of late summer festivals Wednesday as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision marks the first cancellation since the Edinburgh International Festival launched in 1947 in the aftermath of World War II as an attempt to reconcile people and nations through the performing arts.

Now numbering five, including the wildly popular Fringe lineup of both obscure and mainstream acts, Edinburgh’s annual August festivals draw 4.4 million people to over 5,000 events involving over 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries, according to organizers.

Collectively, the festivals are billed as the second-biggest cultural event in the world after the Olympic Games, which were set to take place in Tokyo before the pandemic forced a postponement last week.

“The safety of participants, audiences, local residents and indeed everyone connected to our festivals will always come first,” said Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society.

As well as representing a big financial hit to the city, up to 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) according to some estimates, the cancellation is a huge blow for many in the arts across the U.K.

“This is a heartbreaking decision, but absolutely the right one,” Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told lawmakers in Edinburgh.

Sturgeon said the Scottish government was looking at redistributing support given to the festivals to ensure artists and freelancers are paid. She also pledged help from the government to make sure the festivals return “even stronger.”

The organizers are already planning for the return of the festivals next year.

“Work begins straight away on a 2021 festival season that will boost both our spirits and our economy,” said Fergus Linehan, festival director for the Edinburgh International Festival.

Ellie Gibson and Helen Thorn, better known as the Scummy Mummies comedy act that sold out a 25-night run in Edinburgh last year, told The Associated Press they were “very sad” about the cancellation as the atmosphere in the city during the festivals is “brilliant.”

They relayed their hope that the break might give organizers and artists the “chance to work together to find solutions to some of the issues that have been ongoing in previous years, such as how expensive it is for performers to put on a show, prohibitively in many cases.”

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