GSMA to decide on Mobile World Congress cancellation, amid coronavirus concerns

Visitors visit the Nokia booth at the 2019 Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Shainghai, China, 27 June 2019. [EPA-EFE/LONG WEI]

GSMA, the global mobile network industry group, is set to make a decision on Friday (14 February) as to whether this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona will go ahead, amid concerns that the event may aggravate Europe’s management of the deadly coronavirus.

According to Spanish media reports, an extraordinary meeting between GSMA board members has been scheduled for this Friday, where representatives will make a final decision on whether this year’s MWC, which attracts over 100,000 participants to Barcelona, will take place or not. GSMA is the principal organiser of the annual gathering in Europe.

A GSMA representative declined to confirm to EURACTIV whether or not a possible cancellation could be on the cards. Meanwhile, EURACTIV’s media partner EFE reported on Tuesday that Barcelona’s city council has said that there will be no cancellations or delays of the congress.

GSMA has been attempting to appease concerns related to the current coronavirus outbreak, putting in place additional measures to improve the hygiene of the event.

“The GSMA is building on its existing plans to protect the health of our attendees, clients and staff at MWC Barcelona,” a statement read last week. “GSMA colleagues around the world are taking strong measures to contain and lessen any further spread of the virus.”

“These measures include adhering to advice from the World Health Organisation and other health authorities, respecting travel restrictions where they exist, arriving early in Spain to allow time for self-quarantine and ensuring access to masks.”

Travellers from Hubei province in China, where the virus is believed to have originated, have also been banned from attending.

The event had been planned to take place on 24-27 February, however, fears over the potential spread of the highly contagious coronavirus have led to a series of pullouts from top telecommunications companies. The South Korean firm LG was the first to withdrawal last week, followed by Ericsson, Sony and Amazon, and Intel on Tuesday (11 February).

Intel said in a statement: “The safety and wellbeing of all our employees and partners is our top priority, and we have withdrawn from this year’s Mobile World Congress out of an abundance of caution. We are grateful to the GSMA for their understanding and look forward to attending and supporting future Mobile World Congress events”.

ZTE has already pulled out from holding a press conference at the event, and Asian media are reporting that other Chinese firms, such as Oppo and Xiaomi, have shelved plans to organise tours for members of the Chinese media. Moreover, South Korea’s LG Electronics has cancelled its appearance at this year’s event altogether.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei has put in place a series of ‘precautions’ and ‘internal rules’ for international travel ahead of the company’s appearance at the conference, instructing employees who have been based in Hubei Province to remain isolated for 14 days, while those based in other parts of China have been instructed to remain inside for seven days.

So far, the coronavirus is said to have infected over 40,000 people, claiming more than 1,000 lives. Health authorities in Europe are currently working hard to stem the spread of the disease, while in Spain only two cases have been identified so far.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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