Now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, the coronavirus COVID-19 is spreading in Australia and will have a major impact on our arts and entertainment industry.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has this afternoon accepted the advice of Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, to limit “non-essential” mass gatherings of more than 500 people for the foreseeable future. The emergency measures, which are being instigated to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, will be enacted from Monday March 16.

Photograph courtesy of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

As a result of the new federal government advice, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra has cancelled its performance of Scheherazade on Monday March 16. “We will, however, keep the music going and will live stream this concert for free on the MSO YouTube channel,” said the orchestra in a statement on its website.

MSO performances on March 13 and 14 will continue as planned. Updates regarding performances after March 16 will be made as more information comes to hand.

The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra has suspended all public performances immediately until further notice.

TSO Chief Executive Officer Caroline Sharpen said, “Whilst it is heartbreaking to cancel upcoming concerts – particularly A German Requiem this Saturday which is fully rehearsed and performance-ready, we accept the advice of Australia’s Chief Medical Officer. We are monitoring the situation and will be back as soon as it is safe for Tasmanian audiences. In the meantime, we will find new and creative ways to connect with the Tasmanian community to bring joy and enrichment into people’s lives, particularly in these uncertain times.”

The TSO will continue to rehearse and perform, and will upload content digitally to YouTube.

Canberra Symphony Orchestra has cancelled its Llewellyn One: Organ Symphony scheduled for March 18 and 19. However, its Recital One: CSO Percussion will go ahead this Sunday March 15, given the smaller audience size.

The Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) has cancelled all performances from today up to and including Sunday March 15. All affected audience members will be contacted for full refunds in the coming days.

QPAC said in a statement that it is “working actively to review the forward program of events at the Centre in light of unfolding advice” and “will provide updates as new information becomes available.”

Opera Australia has issued a statement saying that it is “working quickly to clarify and assess the implications to the Company.”

“At this point, performances in the Sydney Opera House scheduled for tonight Friday 13, tomorrow Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 March will go ahead as planned. Advice on performances from Monday onwards will be issued in the coming days.”

Earlier this week, Tasmania’s winter festival Dark Mofo, scheduled for June, was cancelled. The Sydney Writers Festival has suspended ticket sales, and a growing list of other entertainment events are being cancelled or postponed.

The performing arts sector delivers over $4 billion per annum to the Australian economy. But these are very difficult times for the industry. Ticket sales were already falling as a result of the bushfires. While some arts organisations currently plan to continue presenting events in venues with seating for less than 500 (stepping up their cleaning procedures and providing hand sanitisers for patrons) more venue closures and cancellations of events are inevitable as a result of the new ban, and could have a devastating impact on the industry.

Live Performance Australia has called on the federal government to support the live performance industry.

“We expect this to get worse, with the industry losing hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs,” said LPA Chief Executive Evelyn Richardson. AMPAG has supported the LPA’s call for urgent stimulus and relief.

Limelight will continue to report on its website as the rapidly changing situation unfolds. In the meantime, enjoy music and the arts where you can, be it in small venues or outdoors, but keep washing your hands and keep safe. And if you do feel unwell, avoid public gatherings and seek medical advice.