Coronavirus Fears Sink World’s Biggest Mobile Trade Fair After US & Global Tech Giants Pull Out

With Facebook, Intel, Cisco, Sprint, Amazon, Nvidia, LG, Sony, Rakuten, Ericsson, Nokia, etc. out, the gig was up. Other big conferences in trouble too. Tourism industry is reeling.

The novel coronavirus, now named COVID-19, claimed a fresh victim outside China: the world’s biggest mobile trade fair, the Mobile World Congress (MWC). Contagion fears led a roster of tech and telecom companies, many of them non-Chinese, to announce they will be steering clear of the event, scheduled to take place in Barcelona on Feb 24-27. After dozens had pulled out, the event was canceled this evening.

The MWC has been an annual event in Barcelona since 2006, a key showcase for global tech giants and telcos. It attracted 110,000 people from almost 200 countries last year, including more than 5,000 from China. That sprawling global reach, once considered a major attraction, would make the event a perfect melting pot for transmission of COVID-19.

The first company to drop out, South Korean device manufacturer LG, also pulled out of Integrated Systems Europe, an Amsterdam audiovisual trade show, citing advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) that individuals should “promote social distancing” to minimize contagion of the virus. LG’s decision to withdrawal from the MWC last Friday sparked an exodus of industry stalwarts including Intel, Cisco, Sprint, LG, Sony, Ericsson, Facebook, Nokia, Amazon, Rakuten and Nvidia. On Wednesday, major carriers Vodafone, British Telecom, Orange and Deutsche Telekom joined the exodus.

Until today, the GSMA still insisted in public that the show must go on, even as the list of participating companies dwindled, hotel cancellations surged and the pressure mounted to cancel the event altogether.

GSMA last week unveiled a battery of measures to reduce the risk of contagion, including the intensive disinfection of surfaces, banning travelers from the Chinese province of Hubei (home to Wuhan), forcing all other Chinese participants to prove they have been out of China for at least 14 days prior to the conference, and taking the temperature of participants at all entrance points — despite new research showing that these measures might be ineffective.

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