MWC 2020 Cancelled Due to Coronavirus Concerns

Article By : Brian Santo

GSMA is not even going to try to postpone. The organization is already looking ahead to Mobile World Congress 2021.

After a week during which one large exhibitor after another pulled out of Mobile World Congress, the organizers of the show have canceled it outright.

The GSMA today released the following statement:

With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, 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.

The GSMA had plans to meet on Friday — two days hence — to make a decision on whether or not to hold the show, but the rush of exhibitors pulling out of the event made the cancellation all but inevitable. Companies such as Amazon, LG, Nvidia, Ericsson and Viavi had decided not to go. In quick succession they were joined by Facebook, Nokia, Cisco, Intel, Sony, MediaTek, BT, Accedian, Spirent and many others.

Mobile World Congress, scheduled to be held in two weeks in Barcelona, is nearly the span of two continents away from the epicenter of the viral outbreak in Wuhan. Furthermore, there has been only a single confirmed case of the new virus in all of Spain as of Saturday (Feb. 9).

But the fear was too great. Exhibitors, journalists, and other attendees have been on social media for days, polling business colleagues and friends to see who might skip MWC this year.

It all proved too much.

GSMA is not even going to try to postpone, as several smaller conferences have done. In its statement, the organization said it is looking ahead to Mobile World Congress 2021.

There are no estimates of the economic costs, but they have to be significant. Of course the damage will include all of the business associated with the event itself: facility rentals, staffing, travel, shipping, and hits to the local economy of Barcelona. It is also certain to put a crimp in global industry business as well; MWC is a forum for a significant amount of deal-making.

It all goes to show you how tenuous the global economy is, when something that has caused fewer than 1,000 deaths can cause so much disruption, one of my colleagues observed.

The new virus recently was given an official designation: Covid-19.

Over the weekend, the death toll from Covid-19 exceeded the number of deaths attributed to the SARS epidemic that broke out in 2003. The total number of deaths from the recent virus is still relatively low — over 1300 out of roughly 60,000 people infected, with the vast majority of all cases in China. But the death toll is not the key worry about such outbreaks, at least not initially.

Once a new virus is detected, the major concerns are the rate of infection and the mortality rate — basically how easily the virus spreads, and the percentage of people who contract the virus who die from it. The frightening thing about this latest virus is that the data is still being gathered, so no one can say with any certainty how serious this outbreak might be, and therefore how cautious, if not frightened, everyone ought to be. Meanwhile, any comparison to SARS is deeply worrying.

Seventeen years ago, China delayed providing accurate information on SARS, and it hasn’t had a chance to earn back the trust it squandered back then. The way that China has handled this latest epidemic isn’t inspiring confidence, however. Several news sources have documented how the Chinese doctor who first reported the new virus was forced by police to retract his account. That doctor, Li Wenliang, died late last week from the virus, according to The New York Times.

Even the largest governments struggle with natural disasters, and China is no different. The government of China is widely reported to be struggling to contain the virus. It is trying to impose quarantines in the midst of a holiday during which millions of Chinese citizens travel. The government is reported to be scrambling maintain quarantines, to provide medical attention, and to assure food supplies, all while declining help offered by other nations.

EE Times has provided extensive coverage of what effects all of this might have on the supply chain (see Outbreak in Wuhan). Chinese companies report minimal disruption thus far, but the test if things stay the same or get worse will be this week. The government extended the holiday, and encouraged citizens of cities across China to stay home. But the holiday extension elapses this week. It remains to be seen if Chinese employees will have to go back to work, and if they do have to go back, it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll opt to go.

Meanwhile, with the number of deaths rising, and still lacking reliable data, the world is reacting. EE Times reported earlier that technical conferences in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia were being postponed or canceled outright (see Coronavirus Outbreak Causes Event Cancellations Across Asia ), but the fear is now taking a bite out of a major world conference being held nearly 6,000 miles away from the center of the outbreak.

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