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Coronavirus Cancellations And Travel Bans: Google Is Latest

Travel restrictions, canceled events and work from home policies are becoming the new normal at companies as coronavirus fears mount.
Kenzo Tribouillard
AFP via Getty Images
Travel restrictions, canceled events and work from home policies are becoming the new normal at companies as coronavirus fears mount.

Updated at 11:57 a.m. ET Wednesday

Google is the latest company to cancel a big event and curb employee travel as the global spread of the coronavirus outbreak has struck fear across the business world.

The tech company called off its flagship developers conference, called I/O, which was scheduled for May in Mountain View, Calif. Last year, the three-day event drew 7,000 attendees.

Google said the decision was "due to concerns around the coronavirus (COVID-19), and in accordance with health guidance from the CDC, WHO, and other health authorities." People who already bought tickets to I/O will get full refunds.

The company said it would look for ways to "evolve" the event, raising the possibility of livestreamed or remote sessions. Several other companies and organizations, including the World Bank and the IMF, said they would replace in-person gatherings and meetings with virtual ones.

Google has also halted all international travel for employees after previously restricting travel to China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea. Last week, the company said an employee in its Zurich office had tested positive for the new coronavirus.

An Amazon employee at the company's Seattle headquarters has tested positive for the virus. Amazon said it is "supporting the affected employee who is in quarantine." Two employees in Milan have also contracted the virus.

Companies across industries are clamping down on travel and avoiding events and conferences as fears over the spreading outbreak escalate. Some companies, such as Twitter, are urging or even requiring employees to work from home.

The restrictions are expected to affect the travel sector as well as the broader economy and cities and their vendors that rely on events to bring in revenue. Stocks of airlines, hotel groups and cruise lines have all taken a sharp hit in recent weeks.

The U.S. Travel Association, an industry trade group, expects international travel into the U.S. to drop 6% over the next three months — the steepest fall since the 2008 financial crisis.

"There is a lot of uncertainty around coronavirus," said Roger Dow, the association's president, in a statement. "It is pretty clear that it is having an effect on travel demand — not just from China, and not just internationally, but for domestic business and leisure travel as well."

Several large industry events have been scrapped, including the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, after major companies said they would not attend.

But some conference organizers are going ahead with their plans.

Most notably, the South by Southwest music, film and tech festival is scheduled to kick off on March 13, despite calls to cancel. Facebook, Twitter, Intel and Vevo have all pulled out. A petition calling on organizers to cancel SXSW has gotten more than 36,000 signatures.

The following companies are curtailing travel or events, or encouraging people to work from home:

Adobe canceled its annual summit in Las Vegas, saying it would become an "online-only" experience.

Amazon is restricting all nonessential employee travel, including within the U.S. Employees may work from home if they choose.

Apple has restricted employee travel to China, Italy and South Korea, according to Bloomberg News.

Facebook called off its biggest event of the year, its F8 developers conference set for May. It said it would instead offer "locally hosted events, videos and live streamed content." It also canceled its Global Marketing Summit in San Francisco.

Google, in addition to canceling I/O, scrapped its Global News Initiative summit and said it would turn its Cloud Next conference into a digital event. Both events were slated to take place in the San Francisco Bay area in April.

JPMorgan has curbed nonessential employee travel, according to Bloomberg News.

Microsoft canceled its MVP Summit and said it would turn the networking event into an online-only gathering.

Salesforce prohibited international travel and restricted "all but the most critical" domestic travel, and it is making customer events digital instead of in person.

Square, the San Francisco-based payments company, is "strongly" encouraging employees to work from home. It also halted nonessential business travel in the U.S. and internationally, and it is "discouraging in-person attendance at internal and external conferences and business events," according to a spokesman.

Twitter is encouraging all employees to work from home if they are able. Workers in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea are required to work from home. It also suspended "all non-critical business travel and events."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.