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Coronavirus scare forces cancellation of Mobile World Congress in Spain

GSMA said Wednesday that this year's edition of Mobile World Congress will no longer be held as planned in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 24-27

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Coronavirus
Coronavirus. Photo: Reuters

Organizers of the world's biggest mobile technology fair are pulling the plug over worries about the viral outbreak from China.

GSMA said Wednesday that this year's edition of will no longer be held as planned in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 24-27.

John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA, said “global concern regarding the outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event." The decision comes after dozens of tech companies and wireless carriers dropped out, with the latest cancelations by Nokia, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom and Britain's BT on Wednesday. Other big names that have already dropped out include Ericsson, Nokia, Sony, Amazon, Intel and LG. The companies cited concerns for the safety of staff and visitors.

Organizers had sought to hold out against growing pressure to cancel Mobile World Congress, an annual tech extravaganza that had been expected to draw more than 100,000 visitors from about 200 countries, including 5,000 to 6,000 from China.

The GSMA, the wireless trade body that organizes the fair, had said it was monitoring the virus situation closely, including meeting regularly with global and Spanish health experts and its partners to ensure the well-being of attendees.

Nokia said Wednesday it had decided to withdraw from in Barcelona, “after a full assessment of the risks related to a fast-moving situation.” The company said “the health and well-being of employees was a primary focus” and that canceling its involvement was a “prudent decision." Phone company Vodafone said it was dropping out “after careful consideration" while Britain's BT said canceling was “the most responsible decision." The departures of Nokia and Ericsson had left China's Huawei, a major sponsor of the fair, as the only remaining major network gear maker still planning to attend.

Organizers were caught between risking potential backlash over public health concerns if they go ahead or facing big financial losses if they cancel, said Stephen Mears, a research analyst at Futuresource Consulting.

Even before word of the cancellation, Mears said he and his team was considering dropping out or shortening the trip as many participants they wanted to meet won't be there, including those from China, which accounts for an increasing share of the global smartphone and mobile network industry.

“It's becoming less and less valuable for people like us to attend if we're not able to get meetings with the high level executives," he said.

Spanish authorities tried to promote a message of calm as they scrambled to keep alive the trade show, which they say generates 473 million euros ($516 million) and more than 14,000 part-time jobs for the local economy.

The Catalan regional health chief, Alba Vergés, said there's a “very low risk of the coronavirus” in the region of Catalonia, where Barcelona is located, and that authorities are “completely prepared to detect any cases." Four suspected cases have all have proven negative, she said at a press briefing.

First Published: Thu, February 13 2020. 07:12 IST
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