MWC, the world’s biggest mobile phone show, is cancelled over coronavirus fears

February 12, 2020, 9:07 PM UTC

The Mobile World Congress, the largest trade show for mobile phone manufacturers and related businesses, has been canceled in response to the global spread of coronavirus.

The conference’s organizer, GSMA, said in a statement that “global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.”

The cancellation of the event, which could have significant business implications, is one of the most dramatic examples yet of the global impact of the continuing coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan, China. The outbreak has significantly disrupted other economic activity, triggering corporate travel bans, the temporary shutdown of Tesla’s Shanghai factory, and the closure of casinos in Macau.

But the MWC shutdown may be the largest single disruption so far outside of Asia. The event was scheduled for February 24-27 in Barcelona. Most other disruptions outside of Asia have so far been limited to the cancellation of flights or other travel to and from China. The MWC, which in the past has attracted more than 100,000 attendees from around the world, may have risked further spreading coronavirus, whose transmission method is still not entirely understood.

Major phone manufacturers had already pulled out of the conference. Ericsson announced its withdrawal on February 7. Amazon did the same on February 9, quickly followed by Sony, Intel, China’s Vivo, and Japan’s NTT Docomo. Samsung, Huawei, and Xiaomi had also scaled back their presence at the event.

Mobile World Congress is often a showcase for new technology, and its cancellation will be a major disruption to the marketing plans of some mobile tech companies. Sony previously announced that a press conference originally planned for MWC will instead be conducted as a YouTube livestream on February 24. Vivo had been slated to debut the latest version of its Apex “concept phone,” but delayed that showcase to an unknown future date.

The coronavirus death toll in China has topped 1,100, and an expert on infectious diseases told Reuters on Wednesday that the spread of the virus was still “at the beginning” outside of China. For now, infections remain centered in Asia, but there have been a handful of cases elsewhere, including in Germany and the United States. At least one case has been confirmed in Spain.

The GSMA had made efforts to allay concerns about coronavirus, including banning attendees who come from China’s Hubei province, the origin of the outbreak. It had also required a 14-day ‘quarantine’ for attendees arriving from China, and had planned to implement temperature screenings for attendees.

That was not enough, apparently, to allay fears about an outbreak that started half a world away.

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