Coronavirus leads Warren Buffett to mull changes to Berkshire Hathaway shareholder weekend: Omaha mayor

(Reuters) – Warren Buffett plans to wait until around April 1 to decide whether the coronavirus pandemic will require changes to Berkshire Hathaway Inc’s (BRKa.N) annual shareholder weekend a month later, Omaha, Nebraska’s mayor Jean Stothert said.

The pandemic appears increasingly likely to disrupt a weekend that Buffett, who is Berkshire’s chairman and among the world’s most revered investors, calls Woodstock for Capitalists and is corporate America’s largest gathering.

Speaking at a news conference to discuss the impact of the outbreak on Omaha, Stothert said the billionaire called her on Monday night, and said his “preference” was to wait until a month before the May 1-3 weekend to evaluate the situation and recommendations of health and other public officials.

The weekend includes Berkshire’s annual meeting, scheduled for May 2.

“He said that, he’s a very responsible person, and public safety is a priority for him,” Stothert said.

Buffett’s assistant did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the coronavirus outbreak that began in China a pandemic.

Berkshire’s shareholder weekend typically attracts 40,000 or more people to Omaha, including 5,000 from China.

Events that normally draw large crowds of people include the annual meeting, a cocktail reception, a picnic, a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run, and shareholder shopping discounts.

Buffett, 89, routinely mingles with shareholders and fans, sometimes with a horde of reporters, photographers and TV staff in close proximity.

The meeting features Buffett and Berkshire Vice Chairman Charlie Munger, 96, answering several hours of shareholder questions in an arena that holds close to 19,000 people and is normally filled at the start.

Health experts consider elderly people the most at risk of dying from the coronavirus.

Berkshire said last week that the meeting, which is being live-streamed by Yahoo Finance, will occur “irrespective of conditions at that time,” but other events may be changed.

Many companies are moving annual meetings online to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, and a growing number of countries and cities worldwide are banning or recommending the curtailing of large events.

Hotels in downtown Omaha normally sell out nearly a year in advance for Berkshire’s weekend, but a handful that were fully booked last month now have vacancies.

Within Omaha, the outbreak caused the scrapping of this weekend’s baseball series between Creighton University and Central Connecticut State University, and may affect the College World Series of baseball, scheduled for June 13 to 24.

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