The world’s biggest annual mobile and telecommunications show has been canned amid fears of the Novel Coronavirus (now officially known as Covid-19) that sparked an exodus of key participants. It’s the first time in the Mobile World Congress’ history that organisers, industry association the GSMA have cancelled the event. MWC Barcelona 2020 was scheduled to run from 24 February to 27 February 2020.
The show, considered one of the major highlights in the tech calendar each year, draws more than 100,000 participants from around the world. MWC Barcelona hosts the who’s who and up-and-comers in the technology and telecommunication space, and is also the platform where multi-million dollar deals are sealed.
In an official statement, GSMA Ltd CEO John Hoffman said protecting the host city was a key part in its decision to call off the event, noting “the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event.”
Earlier, the GSMA announced that it would be implementing stringent hygiene measures and restricting access for travellers coming from China.
However, this failed to alleviate concerns, as big-name attendees started to pull out last week. Wireless technology giant Ericsson dropped out citing it “couldn’t ensure the safety of its staff and customers.”
Others followed suit—from Sony to Nokia, from Intel to LG Electronics and others. China telecoms heavyweight ZTE announced that it was cancelling its press event but would maintain its exhibition booth presence.
With 5G being the key narrative, this year’s event promised to showcase new 5G-focused products, services and use cases.
Understandably, the decision to cancel MWC Barcelona was a difficult one. The cost implications to the organisers, exhibitors, visitors and everyone involved will be substantial. Likewise, for the city of Barcelona and the people who depend on the annual showcase for their livelihood. The socio-economic impact could be devastating, seeing that the show generates income in excess of USD500 million for the city every year.
The global spread of the coronavirus has disrupted other regional and global events as well, the most recent being the Singapore Air Show which still went ahead but on a smaller scale. The Formula One GP announced that it was postponing the China leg due to the coronavirus outbreak. Acer early this month postponed its Asia Pacific Predator League 2020 tournament which was set to take place in Manila, the Philippines on 19-23 February 2020.
In a Thursday press conference, China confirmed 15,152 new cases and an additional 254 additional deaths. This brings the current death toll in the country to 1,367 with the number of people infected totalling 59,804. (Data: CNBC)
Globally, as of 12 February 2020, there are a total of 441 confirmed coronavirus cases across 24 countries with one reported death (in the Philippines). (Data: World Health Organization (WHO))
Header photo: AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti