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MWC becomes latest victim of coronavirus epidemic

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The 2020 Mobile World Congress (MWC), the largest mobile technology trade show, has been cancelled following an exodus of major exhibitors over fears of coronavirus transmission.

The fast-spreading novel coronavirus, covid-19, was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei province, towards the end of December 2019. The WHO declared it a global emergency at the end of January, and while approximately 99 per cent of cases are contained within China, new cases are being reported around the world every day with no certain signs of the epidemic abating despite measures to minimise risk of transmission in China and elsewhere. So far, the epidemic has claimed 1,100 lives.

Fears about the virus started to take their toll on MWC last week. The event is one of the largest in the tech industry’s calendar, drawing around 100,000 visitors to Barcelona at the end of February each year and playing host to major phone launches. This year was expected to see the launch of flagship phone ranges such as the Sony Xperia 2, with 5G handsets, impressive camera systems, and unusual form factors touted as prominent trends.

Shenzhen-based electronics companies Huawei and ZTE said they would reduce their presence at the show among other safety measures. Seoul-based LG was the first major exhibitor to announce that it would withdraw entirely from the show in order to protect the safety of its staff, followed by Swedish telecoms company Ericsson. Ericsson will instead showcase its latest wares in a series of local events.

Since then, Amazon, Facebook, Intel, Sony, Nvidia, Cisco, Vivo, Sprint, BT, Vodafone, DT, HMD, AT&T have all also fully withdrawn from MWC. Some of these companies will host and livestream their own product launches or display their products at smaller events.

MWC organisers GSMA attempted to ease concerns by announcing safety measures such as banning attendees from the most-afflicted province Hubei, introducing temperature screening and discouraging handshakes. However, major brands continued to drop away from the show, and the GSMA has finally confirmed that the event will not go ahead.

According to a Wired report, the GSMA had been lobbying the Spanish government to declare a health emergency which would allow it to claim back insurance on the aborted event.

“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,” said John Hoffman, GSMA CEO. “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.”

According to Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight: “The GSMA has been a victim of circumstances out of its control and it’s a huge disappointment the show will not go ahead this year. The impact on small companies who have invested a disproportionate amount of their budgets and time on this event should not be underestimated. MWC is an anchor event for many and now they face the challenge of having to figure out what is the best way to salvage something from this difficult situation.”

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