Mobile World Congress canceled over coronavirus fears

Ruben Fields
April 8, 2020

Organizers of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) have announced the cancellation of the world's largest mobile exhibition over the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).

Following a series of crisis meetings on Wednesday afternoon, the industry association GSMA, organizer of the MWC, has made a decision to cancel the event completely for this year. The MWC 2020 was due to take place from February 24 to February 27 in Barcelona, Spain.

The announcement followed a crisis meeting of the GSMA board, after its hand was forced by the pull-out of anchor European members including Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, BT and Nokia.

The first-ever cancellation of MWC Barcelona, which ran as Mobile World Congress since 2006 until a rebranding last year, also deals a big blow to efforts by telecoms carriers, device makers and various tech providers to further promote 5G technology amid new mobile network roll-outs this year.

"There is no evidence at present to suggest that there is community spread outside China, so World Health Organization is not now requesting that large gatherings are cancelled", World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said in Geneva. "MWC is an anchor event for many and now they face the challenge of having to figure out what is the best way to salvage something from this hard situation".

"To bring people together and connect them: That is what Telekom stands for".

Nokia said Wednesday it had chose to withdraw from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain "after a full assessment of the risks related to a fast-moving situation".

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He added, however, that large gatherings of people with many worldwide guests posed a particular risk.

"To take this risk would be irresponsible", he said.

"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", continues the statement.

This would be unlikely to kick in unless restrictions are imposed on public gatherings in the country on health grounds, insurance experts say.

He said it was not possible to postpone the event because it was impossible to know when the situation would change.

"Where there is no ban and businesses make their own commercial decision, I can not see the market paying out", Edel Ryan, who is on the Special Risks team at broker Marsh JLT Specialty, said before the GSMA's decision.

The Host City Parties respect and understand this decision. The event's organizer, GSMA, recently issued a new statement about precautions it is taking, including a ban on visitors from Hubei province, where the epidemic is believed to have begun. It also added that people who have been in China must provide proof they have been outside the country for 14 days.

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