Coronavirus scuttles plans for world’s biggest phone show


Mobile World Congress 2020 has been called off entirely, after several high-profile companies cancelled their plans to attend over fears attendees could catch the coronavirus recently dubbed by the World Health Organisation as Covid-19.

Sony, Facebook, Intel and Amazon all decided to withdraw from the event in Barcelona, which was due to take place between February 24 and 27, because of the risk. MWC is the world’s largest mobile technology trade show, where the biggest names in the industry converge to launch their latest products and innovations, attracting over 100,000 attendees from across the globe each year.

Mobile World Congress is the world's biggest phone technology trade show, usually attracting more than 100,000 attendees.

Mobile World Congress is the world’s biggest phone technology trade show, usually attracting more than 100,000 attendees.Credit:Bloomberg

“Sony has been closely monitoring the evolving situation following the novel coronavirus outbreak, which was declared a global emergency by the World Health Organisation on January 30, 2020,” Sony said in a statement posted to its website. “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.”

While earlier this week event organiser and mobile operator lobbying group GSMA said it planned to go ahead with the event as planned, on Thursday morning it sent a statement to several media outlets confirming it would be cancelled.

“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,” CEO John Hoffman told Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

The group subsequently posted a statement to its website adding that the decision was made “with due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country”.

“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.”

Other attendees who previously cancelled their MWC plans include South Korean tech giant LG, Swedish telecoms equipment-maker Ericsson, US chipmaker Nvidia and cyber-security firm McAfee.


Other companies were scaling back their plans for the show, including Chinese exhibitor TCL, while fellow Chinese companies Huawei and Oppo were working with the event organiser on preventative measures but were planning to proceed with the show as planned.

Before the event’s cancellation, the GSMA said it still expected more than 2800 exhibitors to attend, and that it had put in place additional measures to “reassure attendees and exhibitors that their health and safety are of paramount concern”. These included a ban on all travellers from China’s Hubei province, while people who have been in China must provide proof they have been outside the country for 14 days. Onsite medical support was also to be “doubled from last year’s show”, while a “no-handshake policy” was also to be enforced for all attendees.

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 1000 people — the vast majority in mainland China — and infected more than 43,000 others.

With Tim Biggs

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