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TECHNOLOGY

Coronavirus: Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress takes a hit as tech giant pulls out

The world's biggest mobile tech fair has suffered a blow from the deadly coronavirus outbreak after South Korea's LG Electronics said it was pulling out of the event in Spain later this month.

Coronavirus: Barcelona's Mobile World Congress takes a hit as tech giant pulls out
File photo: AFP

South Korea's LG Electronics, which usually occupies one of the largest spaces at the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, said late Tuesday it would not take part in the event this year, being held February

24-27, in order to safeguard “the safety of its employees, partners and customers”.

“This decision removes the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel which has already become more restrictive as the virus continues to spread across borders,” it added in a statement.

The company said it would instead hold separate events in the “near future” to unveil its new mobile products.

Meanwhile Shenzhen-based ZTE, which makes smartphones and wireless networking equipment, said while it was still taking part in the event it has “adopted a series of strong prevention, control and safeguard measures” against the spread of the coronavirus which has killed almost 500 people, mainly in China.

These include requiring that senior executives of the company taking part in “high-level meetings” at the gathering “will self-isolate themselves in Europe for at least two weeks prior to the MWC,” the company said in a statement.

ZTE's exhibition stand and equipment will be disinfected daily and all of its booth exhibition staff will come from countries outside of China, mainly from Europe, it added.   

All employees from mainland China, including non-Chinese nationals, who will take part at the trade show must have no symptoms two weeks before departure to the MWC.

ZTE unveiled its first flagship phone that is compatible with the latest, fifth-generation (5G) mobile networks at the event last year. It said it would showcase new 5G devices in Barcelona this year.

Mobile trade association GSMA which organises the event said in a statement it “continues to monitor and assess the potential impact of the coronavirus” on its fair and has “implemented many measures to help to mitigate the spread of the virus and is continuing to add other actions regularly.”   

These include advising exhibitors on how to best disinfect their stands and setting up signs reminding attendees of hygiene recommendations.   

Over 109,000 people from around the world are expected to attend the congress.

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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