More artists postpone or cancel China dates over coronavirus, with insurance coverage in doubt

The growing outbreak of coronavirus has led to the cancellation of multiple events scheduled in China, including those in the arts and entertainment industries.

Insurance underwriter cites struggle to get coronavirus coverage 'for any event'

Visitors walk through an art installation at Art Basel on March 28, 2019 in Hong Kong. (Theodore Kaye/Getty Images for Hong Kong Tourism Board)

The growing coronavirus outbreak has led to the cancellation of multiple events scheduled in China, including those in the arts, sports and tech sectors.

One of the casualties is Art Basel Hong Kong, an influential annual art fair that was supposed to host 242 galleries, more than half of them from Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.

The fair was scheduled to run from March 19-21, but organizers recently released a statement saying they had "no other option" but to cancel over concerns about the virus.

As of Thursday, the virus had infected 59,805 people and killed 1,350 in China. Outside the country, there have been 441 cases and two deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

The impact on artists from Asia is significant. China was the third largest global art market in 2018, after the U.S. and Britain, according to last year's Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report, recording 19 per cent of the total global art auction sales that reached $67.4 billion US.

Cultural events and performances cancelled or postponed due to the virus include:

  • The Hong Kong International Film & TV Market Conference (FilMart) — a kind of marketplace that helps film, TV and animation projects from around the world get into mainland China — has been postponed, according to media reports on Thursday. Variety said FilMart will be reduced from four days to three and be held Aug. 27-29. It had been scheduled to run March 25-28.
  • U.K. rapper Stormzy announced Thursday he's postponing his Asian tour due to the virus. One of the five shows from his tour would have been in Shanghai on March 27.
  • This year's month-long Hong Kong Arts Festival, scheduled to open Feb. 13 with a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has been cancelled, organizers announced Monday.
  • The Washington, D.C.-based National Symphony Orchestra announced in early February that it has cancelled two concerts in Beijing and one in Shanghai next month, due to its flight cancellations and U.S. State Department travel restrictions.
  • The Boston Symphony Orchestra cancelled an Asian tour from Feb. 6-16 that had included performances in Seoul, South Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; Shanghai and Hong Kong.
  • In late January, Cirque du Soleil announced that all performances of its first and only permanent show in China have been cancelled until further notice, citing the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
  • Xside Night, promoted as a mix of entertainment events for the Mobile World Congress, has also been cancelled in Barcelona.
  • K-pop group Seventeen last Sunday cancelled a world tour that included stops across Asia and Europe. 

Another major event affected is the Mobile World Congress, scheduled Feb. 24-27. It announced a cancellation on Wednesday after tech companies started pulling out over the outbreak. The world's largest cellphone trade fair said its decision comes "with due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country."

As for covering some of the losses due to the virus, businesses looking to buy cancellation insurance for events around the world will not be able to get cover for the resulting disease — now known as COVID-19 — going forward, industry sources told Reuters.

Organizers of events that already have epidemic cover will be able to claim for cancellation due to the coronavirus, provided the event was due to take place in a country subject to travel bans or limits on public gatherings, industry sources say.

Many businesses do not buy the extra epidemic cover, but large events are more likely to have it, insurers say.

Big insurance losses expected

But for those planning music, sporting or trade events now — some of whom begin organizing and buy the insurance up to two years in advance — there will be no protection.

"As things stand at the moment, you would struggle to get coronavirus [coverage] for any event, until we know where we are with this virus," said Rebecca Mitchell, contingency underwriter at Argo Global.

Even though not all organizers buy extra epidemic cover, losses to cancellation insurers are already likely to be more than $100 million, said Tim Thornhill, director, sales in entertainment and sport at Lloyd's of London broker Tysers.

Seventeen performs on stage in Seoul on Jan. 23, 2019. They join other South Korean performers, like singer Taeyeon and boy band Got7, in cancelling or postponing shows in Asia over the coronavirus. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Analysts at Jefferies, an investment bank and financial services company, estimate the insurance value of the Shanghai Grand Prix at $500 million US, though brokers and underwriters told Reuters they expected losses to be lower. The Chinese Grand Prix scheduled for April 19 in Shanghai has been postponed, Formula One organizers announced on Wednesday.

The wording of insurance contracts is often nuanced, so it could be hard to say whether cover was available or not, said Edel Ryan, who is on the Special Risks team at broker Marsh JLT Specialty.

But "disinclination to travel" was never covered by insurance, she added, so delegates or exhibitors who pull out of conferences outside a directly affected region would not be insured.

Major insurers such as Zurich and Lloyd's of London underwriter Hiscox have said they do not expect a significant financial impact from the virus so far.

But Argenta, which operates in the specialist Lloyd's of London market, said in an online post this week that if large events including the Tokyo Olympics were cancelled, "undoubtedly a number of Lloyd's syndicates would be impacted."

On Thursday, organizers of this summer's Olympics reiterated that the Games will go on as planned.

With files from Reuters


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