The Oxford Literary Festival - one of the biggest cultural events of the year has been cancelled over coronavirus fears.

The event, which was due to start next week, would have seen talks and events with some of the biggest writers and personalities in Britain and beyond, including Pat Barker, Penelope Lively, Chris Packham, Ken Clarke, John Humphreys and Lucy Worsley.

Also on the bill were AC Grayling, Alexander McCall Smith, children’s authors Katherine Rundell and Robin Stevens, food writer and TV presenter Prue Leith, presenter Dermot O’Leary and crime writer Val McDermid.

Festival director Sally Dunsmore said: “It is with a heavy heart that we have taken the decision to postpone this year’s festival. It is the only and right thing to do in the light of continued concern and uncertainty about the spread of the coronavirus.

“Our foremost concern is that the festival does not put at risk the health of yourselves – our visitors – our authors, sponsor partners, festival staff and volunteers, and university and college personnel hosting our events in their venues.

Read more: Jamie Cullum pulls shows because of coronavirus

“The Oxford Literary Festival is one of the world’s most prestigious, with 28,000 ticket holders attending and 450 writers speaking over nine days. For many of you who have been so generous to support our festival over a number of years (this year was to showcase our 24th festival) you’ll be familiar with its style and content.

“Featuring discussion and talk of literary subjects and the concerns of our time by some of the greatest writers and influential thinkers of our age, the festival has been a platform for education, debate of ideas and free speech. No doubt an analysis of our current circumstances will form part of future festivals.

“I know this postponement of our events will not come as a complete surprise, and I am sorry for any disappointment or change of plans this will cause.

Oxford Mail:

“We are deeply committed to the future success of the festival, and a good part of what we had scheduled we plan to carry over until later this year or next year. I hope that you will appreciate that we will need to assess options when we are in a better position to do so.

“We very much appreciate all the tremendous encouragement that you have given, and hope we can continue to rely on it.”

Booker Prize-winning novelist Pat Barker, author of the bestselling The Ghost Road, was due to talk about her latest novel The Silence of the Girls, a new take on The Iliad and a story about the cost of wars, and about her life and work.

She was also due to be presented with the prestigious Bodley Medal – awarded by the Bodleian Librarian Richard Ovenden, to people who have made outstanding contributions to the worlds of literature, culture, science and communication.

Alexander McCall Smith, one of the world’s most prolific novelists was also setto talk, and receive the honorary fellowship of the festival.

Ms Dunsmore urged supporters to financially support the festival by not claiming refunds. She said: “Because we could not be covered by insurance for this kind of eventuality and because we are a self-funding charity not making a profit, we would like if at all possible to treat any ticket sales as a donation.

Oxford Mail:

“However, we will treat ticket sales as a credit for future festival events if requested. Unfortunately, we are unable to refund at this stage. We will be back in touch by the end of May to explain how you can make your donation of your ticket or claim your credit.

“Next year will mark our 25th anniversary, and I very much hope that by then we will lay on a wonderful programme of events we all can enjoy and be proud of.

“Our website will be updated to carry more questions and answers as we receive further information. We send our warm wishes to you all for your good health and that of your families.”