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MWC cancellations snowball as show implements strict coronavirus precautions

At least four more major participants pulled out of MWC 2020 over the weekend, while restrictions on visitors from China have been tightened.

Amazon, Nvidia, Sony and Viavi have now all confirmed they’ve decided the risk of coronavirus infection is too great for them to allow their formal presence to go ahead. Here are their statements.

Amazon: “Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020, scheduled for Feb. 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain.”

Nvidia: “We’ve informed GSMA, the organizers of MWC Barcelona, that we won’t be sending our employees to this year’s event. Given public health risks around the coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern.

“MWC Barcelona is one of the world’s most important technology conferences. We’ve been looking forward to sharing our work in AI, 5G and vRAN with the industry. We regret not attending, but believe this is the right decision. We’re grateful for GSMA’s leadership and continued efforts to ensure the safety of all attendees.”

Sony: “Sony has been closely monitoring the evolving situation following the novel coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization on January 30th, 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.

“The Sony press conference will now instead take place at the scheduled time of 8:30am (CET) on February 24, 2020 as a video via our official Xperia YouTube channel to share our exciting product news. https://www.youtube.com/user/sonyxperia. Sony would like to thank everyone for their understanding and ongoing support during these challenging times.”

Viavi: “After reviewing all available data, VIAVI has chosen to cancel participation in this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona out of an abundance of caution and concern for our employees, customers and partners.”

There are rumours of other cancellations, but none confirmed at time of writing. Cnet reports that Samsung is still exhibiting, but is acting to protect just its senior execs, which isn’t a great look if it’s true. We asked Samsung for comment and were told that, while there is no official statement, the company is still attending.

The telecoms sector disruption caused by the epidemic isn’t restricted to MWC, of course. Much of the world’s tech manufacturing takes place in China and it’s likely to be severely disrupted by the measures the Chinese government has put in place to try to contain it. The biggest manufacturer of all, Foxconn, is being prevented from operating according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

Meanwhile the organisers of MWC 2020, the GSMA, issued another update over the weekend, affirming once more that the event is still going ahead, but announcing a raft of new precautions and restrictions designed to mitigate the risk of coronavirus infection to exhibitors and attendees.

  • All travellers from the Hubei province will not be permitted access to the event (MWC Barcelona, Four Years From Now (4YFN), xside and YoMo)
  • All travellers who have been in China will need to demonstrate proof they have been outside of China 14 days prior to the event (passport stamp, health certificate)
  • Temperature screening will be implemented
  • Attendees will need to self-certify they have not been in contact with anyone infected.

While it’s totally understandable that the GSMA will do everything in its power to make the show as safe as possible, it’s hard to se how some of those measures will be enforceable. What does ‘self-certify’ even mean? At the very least, getting into the Fira is going to be a massive hassle. Also this advice was issued yesterday, 15 days before the official start of the event. So, essentially, if you haven’t left China for the event already, don’t bother.

The whole event feels like it’s balancing on a knife-edge, with just one more negative development potentially enough to tip the balance towards outright cancellation. We understand many companies are following Ericsson’s lead and conducting formal risk assessments, the results of which are probably already being analysed. The smart money was on Nokia pulling out after the Ericsson decision, but we’ve heard nothing from them yet. The biggest exhibitor, however, is Chinese firm Huawei, and the fate of MWC could lie in their hands.

  • MWC19 Los Angeles

  • MWC20 Barcelona


10 comments

  1. Avatar Mandy Blackburn 10/02/2020 @ 3:48 pm

    It will be a shame if its cancelled but health and safety takes priority always.
    It certainly must be a nightmare to try and manage that expected amount of foot traffic from all over the world. Trouble is once the big players start pulling out the knock on effect is inevitable.
    Can GSMA step forward to be more open about the precautionary measures and checks to reassure attendees perhaps?

  2. Avatar Andrew C 10/02/2020 @ 4:21 pm

    I think the risk is, if it does snowball, could Barcelona even handle those type of mass cases in the hospital system? This would have lasting affects even beyond the MWC conference finishing.

  3. Avatar Matthew Bennett 10/02/2020 @ 4:41 pm

    I wonder if it would be possible to delay the event. I’m concern about the public engagement after these key companies have dismissed their presence. On another hand, it might increase the visibility for smaller companies that will be present.

  4. Avatar Anne 10/02/2020 @ 4:48 pm

    It’s a shame we are putting the health of citizens at risk for the financial benefits of a fair organizer and region. It is not only the fair which is a risk but such significant international travel will increase contamination in taxis, restaurants, public transport, etc. leading to a snowball effect. It is unfortunate Spain cannot take example of countries like the UK or Switzerland whom are acting responsibly in order to solve this global issue as soon as possible.
    A huge applause to the companies that are protecting their employees.

  5. Avatar Ludwig 10/02/2020 @ 5:37 pm

    The biggest problem is Chinese who has been in China on 14 February 2020 are allowed at event. Now when did the virus start.. It takes 10 days to detect the virus somehow I think it’s too risky to allow anyone who was in China by 20 January 2020.. That seems a safer date atleast 10 days before virus was detected in the country..

  6. Avatar barcelona 11/02/2020 @ 3:20 am

    the fair should be cance, period.

  7. Sony and Amazon withdraw from MWC 2020 over Coronavirus fears. At this point I think it is fair to say MWC will be postponed. I am calling it…

  8. Avatar Steve McMahon 11/02/2020 @ 10:42 am

    We were exhibiting at MWC.. We were only two strong at this years event but we have taken the decision to cancel our attendance.. Whilst there will be (in relative terms) no impact in us not being there, it was huge deal for us and our business to attend. However, I could not in good faith put my employees and myself in potential harms way.. The clincher for me was every single report mentioned that there is a tangible risk there but it boiled down to commercials.. I make no apologies for putting my, my team and their families before the bottom line on a balance sheet.. I am exceptionally dissapointed at the stance of many of the big players that are either not sending their exec team (so the stand workers etc are expendable?) or boiling it down to the commercials and as a result putting pressure on workers to toe the company line!!

    The sensible thing to do is postpone till this virus is under control. Having it while there are concerns over this spreading through Europe is just irresponsible to the next level!!

  9. Avatar Marie 11/02/2020 @ 6:30 pm

    Without key players (Facebook just cancelled its participation) the event does not make good business sense anymore.

  10. Avatar Carolina 12/02/2020 @ 2:05 pm

    My question is,
    Why is there a paranoia with the WMC in Barcelona? Are we now cancelling all festivals? All of them? all over the world? Isn’t it strange they are cancelling due “health risk” concern to their employees, the same employees which are now in the ISE in Amsterdam? Or, 1 month ago, in the Fira of I’H?
    Honestly, if the reasons are really the coronavirus, shouldn’t they be more coherent with their appearances? Or, is there any other reason of these cancellations.

    I think here there is a real article.

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