Business world struggles for a response to possible coronavirus pandemic

As new countries announce their first case of coronavirus every day, many business events are choosing to follow the example of MWC and cancel.

In the tech sector Facebook has pulled the plug on its F8 developer conference, according to multiple reports, citing the threat of COVID-19, as this novel strain of coronavirus is now referred to. The event was due to take place in early May. Facebook has also pulled out of the more imminent Games Developers Conference, joining key gaming players Sony and Microsoft in that respect. GDC was still going ahead at time of writing but, as we all know, that could change any time.

Global concerns about COVID-19 have ramped considerably in the past few days, making us, and we suspect the rest of the telecoms industry, relieved that we haven’t all been together in Barcelona. Stock markets have tanked because of it, with most of the leading indices down 3-4% overnight, as macroeconomic leaders make increasingly pessimistic noises about the likely economic effects of the epidemic.

The single authority everyone is looking to most for guidance is the World Health Organisation. It has a website dedicated to providing updates on the situation and is providing daily updates, the latest of which you can see in the embedded tweet below. While using increasingly portentous terms to describe the outbreak, the WHO has yet to declare it a pandemic, which it will if and when enough countries around the world experience sustained infections. Again that move could be imminent.

While it’s completely understandable for business people to avoid attending large gatherings at a time like this, the greater economic threat is posed by the sheer uncertainty of the situation. Inevitably some of that is exploited by people with an agenda, with the BBC even finding examples of some nutters saying the whole thing is a byproduct of 5G. That sort of thing is bound to lead to further calls for censorship, but as ever that would be misguided and we have to trust regular people to use their common sense.

On the other hand, many people within the industry are being far more sanguine than the panicky stock markets would suggest. While the Chinese smartphone market is known to be significantly impacted in Q1, that seems to be already be stabilising ahead of a likely rebound in the second half of this year. We’re also hearing that some imminent industry events are considering postponing for a few months rather than cancelling outright if they fear attendance will be too low.

The general feeling seems to be that COVID-19 is just something that needs to be endured until it blows over. The number of new cases in China has been falling for a while now, so the origin country may also be a source of best practice for how to mitigate it. But if COVID-19 is upgraded to a pandemic we can expect a lot more cancellations, stock market wobbles and general anxiety in the short term. All eyes will be on the Tokyo Olympics.

One comment

  1. Avatar Jan Gerrit Kootstra 28/02/2020 @ 3:24 pm

    An issue to consider, if one is still wondering whether or not to go to a conference: “Contact the organization before registration, about a possible cancellation”.

    A lot of insurance companies will not honor your refund claim, if your country of inhabitants has not announced a travel limitation for the region where the conference was supposed to take place.

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