Mobile World Congress cancelled over coronavirus concerns

Mobile World Congress (MWC), the world’s biggest smartphone conference, has been cancelled after a slew of household-name exhibitors pulled out citing concerns over the spread of coronavirus.

John Hoffman, CEO of GMSA, the association behind the event, said the coronavirus outbreak had made staging MWC, which was scheduled to take place in Barcelona on February 24- 27, ‘impossible’.

This is the first time that the MWC has been called off in its 33-year history.

The GSMA could have to foot the bill for the entire cost of the cancellation unless the Spanish government declares the coronavirus outbreak a health emergency.

Whether insurers will pay towards costs remains to be seen. “Where there is no ban and businesses make their own commercial decision, I cannot see the market paying out,” Edel Ryan, who is on the special risks team at broker Marsh JLT Specialty, told Reuters.

Barcelona’s hospitality sector stands to lose millions, as the show is calculated at being worth around £420m, with 14,000 part-jobs for locals. Taxi services such as Cabify saw 33 per cent of bookings from MWC axed even before the mobile phone show was called off.

The show’s organisers had attempted to bring in precautionary measures to protect their visitors such as a ban on travellers from the Hubei province, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak and temperature screening.

The show, which attracts 100,000 delegates (including 6,000 from China) is a major event in Barcelona’s event calendar, adding almost €500m to the economy and employing 14,000 temporary staff.

But Hoffman said: “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.”

He added: “The Host City Parties respect and understand this decision. The GSMA and the Host City Parties will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world.”

Earlier BT and Nokia had become the latest tech giants to withdraw from Mobile World Congress. Sony, Amazon, Facebook, LG, Ericsson and chip-maker Nvidia had already withdrawn from the show. French telecoms group Orange also pulled out, despite the fact its chief executive, Stephane Richard, chairs the GSMA.

Deutsche Telekom, who also pulled out of the show, defended its decision. CEO Tim Hoettges posted on LinkedIn: “To take this risk would be irresponsible.”

As GSMA made its decision, the number of deaths from the respiratory virus was approaching 1,200, with the number of infections worldwide reaching 45,000.