Tech firms skipping key mobile fair over coronavirus fears

A worker wearing a mask leaves the Mobile World Congress' facilities in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 7, 2020.
A worker wearing a mask leaves the Mobile World Congress' facilities in Barcelona, Spain, on Feb 7, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MADRID (AFP) - Major tech companies are skipping the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this month because of fears over the coronavirus, though Chinese groups and other big names still plan to attend the top industry event.

Amazon and Sony said on Monday (Feb 10) they will stay away from the world's biggest mobile tech fair, joining Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson and South Korean giant LG.

NTT DoCoMo, the biggest Japanese telecommunications operator and one of the biggest in Asia, said it too would be absent for reasons of "security" stemming from the virus.

The annual gathering is scheduled for Feb 24-27 this year.

"Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020," a Spanish-language statement said.

A Sony statement said: "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."

LG, which normally has one of the biggest stands, said last week that its decision "removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel which has already become more restrictive as the virus continues to spread across borders."

Like Sony, LG plans separate events to unveil its new mobile products.

Other trade shows have also been hit by the virus, with the biennial Singapore Airshow reporting the loss of more than 70 participants, including US group Lockheed Martin and Bombardier of Canada.

The MWC is a major date on tech company calendars and normally draws more than 100,000 people from all over the world to see the latest innovations and gadgets.

The mobile trade association GSMA that organises the congress said Sunday it was taking drastic precautions this year to ease fears that it could become a hub for the virus to spread.

 
 
 
 

To date, more than 40,000 people have been infected and more than 900 have died in the outbreak that began in China's Wuhan city. Most deaths have been in China.

The Barcelona congress will be off limits to anyone from the Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus first broke out, and visitors from other parts of China will have to show they have been outside the country for two weeks before arriving in Spain.

Shenzhen-based ZTE, which makes smartphones and wireless networking equipment, and Huawei have said they still plan to attend, along with compatriots Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi.

Finnish phone maker Nokia and the South Korean giant Samsung are also still expected.

"We remain more than 2,800 exhibitors strong," a GSMA statement said.

DAILY DISINFECTION

ZTE's exhibition stand and equipment will be disinfected daily and its booth exhibition staff will come from countries outside China, mainly from Europe, it said.

Senior executives taking part in "high-level meetings" at the gathering "will self-isolate themselves in Europe for at least two weeks prior to the MWC," a ZTE statement said.

The company plans to showcase new 5G devices this year.

Huawei staff, including executives, have also arrived two weeks early and shut themselves up in their hotels, a company spokesman told AFP.

GSMA said: "We are grateful for the preventative measures our Chinese exhibitors have put in place, notably ZTE and Huawei."

 

Meanwhile, personnel will be on hand to take visitors' temperatures and exhibitors will be advised on how best to disinfect their stands.

Spain has not declared a health emergency and only two cases of coronavirus have been detected in the country so far, one in the Canary Islands and another on the Mediterranean island of Majorca.

"Everything will be done to ensure the participant's peace of mind," Barcelona Mayor Jaume Collboni told Antena 3 television.

But an association of Barcelona hotel operators acknowledged they had recorded cancellations for the period, which represents one of the Catalan city's most important events.