The world's biggest telecom assembly MWC 2020 has been cancelled as telecom companies one after the other pulled out of the annual conference following the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus in China.
The Mobile World Congress (MWC) is held every year in Barcelona and top Indian industry leaders, as well as top government officials and ministers, have been attending the event.
Bharti Airtel head Sunil Mittal, telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and Telecom Secretary Anshu Prakash were expected to attend the global event this year.
"With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event," the industry body said in a statement.
China on Thursday reported 254 fatalities from the coronavirus outbreak - the highest in a single day and double than the previous record high - taking the death toll to 1,367 and nearly 15,000 fresh cases on Wednesday.
The Philippines reported the first death outside China from the virus. So far, 445 cases have been reported from about 26 countries including three from India.
Global telecom industry body GSM Association body has been organising the event annually since 2006 in Barcelona, Spain, where governments, ministers, policymakers, operators and industry leaders across the broader ecosystem discuss developments in the technology sector with telecom as a common thread.
Some of the sponsors and leading exhibitors including those companies which are on the board of GSMA pulled out of the event due to threat from novel coronavirus. These companies include Vodafone, Cisco, LG, Vivo, NTT Docomo, Sony, Amazon, Facebook, Mediatek, Intel, Nvidia etc.
"The Host City Parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world," the association said.
Around 100,000 people from across the globe attend the event every year. According to reports, organisers may not get insurance claim as Spain has not recognised the situation as a health emergency.
Some of the sponsors and exhibitors said that they will have to bear a major loss on account of cancellation of airfare and hotel bookings.
"We have been refunded around 30 per cent of the airfare. Our company is still talking to the hotels for a refund but it seems difficult as most of the hotel bookings in Barcelona are non-refundable during the MWC days. There is no clarity yet on refund of participation money from GSMA," a company official, who is also one of the sponsors of MWC 2020, said on the condition of anonymity.
An email query sent to GSMA over the possibility of a refund did not elicit any immediate reply.