Mobile World Congress Cancelled Over Coronavirus Fears

RIP MWC 2020. (Photo: Getty Images)

Companies have been cancelling appearances at Mobile World Congress 2020 left and right—to the point where GSMA, the conference’s organiser, has decided to pull the plug on the event entirely.

Rumblings of a possible cancellation came earlier in the week after a slew of big-name companies decided to withdraw from the event citing health reasons related to the recent outbreak of COVID-19. Among those were Facebook, Cisco, AT&T, Sprint, Sony, NTT Docomo, Intel, TCL, Amazon, and Nvidia. That followed earlier withdrawals or announcements of a reduced presence from Ericsson, LG, and ZTE.

At the time, the GSMA said in a statement that the show would soldier on as planned. The group also announced strengthened health safety measures, stating that travellers from Hubei province in China wouldn’t be granted access to the event. Additionally, the GSMA said temperature screening would be implemented and attendees who had been in China would have to prove they had left the country at least 14 days prior to MWC.

However, cracks began appearing in the GSMA’s resolve on Tuesday, when industry sources said the GSMA would decide the fate of the show at a board meeting on Friday morning. On Wednesday morning, French telecommunications company Orange withdrew from the show. As its CEO is also the head of the GSMA it appeared the writing was on the wall.

Soon after reports from Bloomberg and Financial Times said the show was cancelled, the GSMA published its own statement from GSMA CEO John Hoffman.

“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 statement went on to say that the host city understood the decision and that MWC 2021 is still planned to go forward.

So far, COVID-19 has killed more than 1,000 people worldwide, surpassing the total number of deaths from SARS. Although the mortality rate is actually lower than SARS, the disease itself is highly transmissible, leading to a greater number of cases in a shorter time period. Given that, it makes sense that vendors pulled out of MWC left and right. Last year, 109,674 people attended the conference, spanning 198 countries and territories.

It doesn’t take much to imagine how far the disease might spread if even just a few MWC attendees were to become infected. That said, the event’s cancellation is a big blow for Barcelona. According to Reuters, MWC usually gives the local economy a boost of about $742 million.

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