Coronavirus fears threaten global tech conference

Written by on February 12, 2020

mrtom-UK/iStock(BARCELONA, Spain) — The coronavirus, declared a global health emergency, is posing a threat to one of the most-attended yearly global tech conferences, Mobile World Congress.

MWC, held each year in Barcelona, Spain, drew 109,674 attendees last year and is a destination for the most prominent tech companies in the world. Several of these companies have officially withdrawn from MWC 2020, scheduled for Feb. 24-27, citing concerns over coronavirus.

“We’ve informed GSMA, the organizers of MWC Barcelona, that we won’t be sending our employees to this year’s event,” Nvidia, one of the tech exhibitors at MWC, wrote in a blog post. “Given public health risks around the coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern.”

Other tech companies that have pulled out of the conference include Facebook, Amazon, Intel, LG, Sony, Vivo and Ericsson.

In an email to ABC News, a Facebook company spokesperson confirmed the social media giant’s decision to skip this year’s MWC.

“Out of an abundance of caution, Facebook employees won’t be attending this year’s Mobile World Congress due to the evolving public health risks related to coronavirus. We will continue to collaborate with the GSMA and our partners and thank them for their efforts.” A source at Facebook said that while the risk from coronavirus is low, the potential impact is too high to put the company’s teams at risk.

An Amazon spokesperson in a statement said, “Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020.”

“The safety and wellbeing of all our employees and partners is our top priority, and we have withdrawn from this year’s Mobile World Congress out of an abundance of caution. We are grateful to the GSMA for their understanding and look forward to attending and supporting future Mobile World Congress events,” an Intel spokesperson told ABC News in another emailed statement.

LG announced its withdrawal from MWC via a blog post on its website dated Feb. 5. “With the safety of its employees, partners and customers foremost in mind, LG has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in MWC 2020 later this month….” the post read.

Cisco Systems took to Twitter to announce that it would not be at MWC.

Cisco shares statement on #MWC20.

— Cisco (@Cisco) February 11, 2020

“As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona, Spain,” was the statement from Sony.

Vivo, a China-based tech company also confirmed with ABC News that it would not attend MWC.

“Vivo has been closely monitoring the Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia (NCP) outbreak and continuously evaluating planned activities. The health and safety of our employees and the public are our top priority. Based on the present situation, we have decided to withdraw from our debut at MWC 2020 and other related events later this month in Barcelona, Spain,” a Vivo spokesperson stated in an email.

There are unconfirmed reports circulating on social media that GSMA board members are meeting to make a decision as to whether MWC should go on as planned. However, the most recent post on GSMA’s site states otherwise.

“The GSMA is moving ahead as planned and will host MWC Barcelona 24-27 February 2020. While the GSMA confirm some large exhibitors have decided not to come to the show this year with others still contemplating next steps, we remain more than 2,800 exhibitors strong,” the post reads.

On its website, GSMA detailed its plans for combating coronavirus exposure at MWC. Travelers from Hubei province in China, which is where the epicenter of the virus is located, will not be allowed into MWC, as part of those plans. In addition, anyone attending the event who has been to China will have to submit proof that they have been outside of China 14 days prior to MWC’s kickoff.

The event’s organizer will provide temperature screenings and on-site medical support, and will undertake extensive hygiene and disinfection practices.

There are calls across social media for MWC to go on, some of which come from industry analysts who attend the event every year.

“I think MWC should go on and I will be attending. I also feel that as media, even if MWC is cancelled, there might still be enough pre-show press events happening that might still be worth going. I believe that with the right (and current — pretty drastic, IMO) precautions, MWC can still happen safely,” tech industry consultant and host of the Mobile Tech Podcast, Myriam Joire, told ABC News in a message.

On Twitter, longtime leading mobile tech analyst Sascha Segan urged the MWC organizers to not “give into hysteria.”

No. Stand firm @GSMA and don’t give in to hysteria.

— Sascha Segan (@saschasegan) February 11, 2020

Yet, there is also a contingency of voices opposed to the event being held. One online petition is calling for MWC’s postponement.

The global death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak — 1,017 is the most recent figure — has already surpassed that of the SARS epidemic. All but one of the deaths have occurred in China. The only death from the outbreak outside of China was in the Philippines.

Since the first cases were detected back in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, China’s National Health Commission said Tuesday that it has recorded a total of 42,638 confirmed coronavirus cases. There are at least 319 cases confirmed in 24 other countries, according to the World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

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