Coronavirus: Is it still safe to attend Barcelona's Mobile World Congress?

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Coronavirus: Is it still safe to attend Barcelona's Mobile World Congress?
A woman wearing a mask leaves a hospital in Mallorca where one of Spain's two confirmed coronavirus cases is being treated. Photo: AFP

Major tech companies are skipping the inescapable Mobile World Congress this year owing to fears over the coronavirus, though Chinese groups including ZTE and Huawei still plan to attend.


So who is pulling out? 

Amazon and Sony said Monday they will steer clear of the world's biggest mobile tech fair in Barcelona, joining Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson and South Korean giant LG.

The annual gathering is to take place on February 24-27 this year. 

"Due to the outbreak and continued concerns about novel coronavirus, Amazon will withdraw from exhibiting and participating in Mobile World Congress 2020," a Spanish-language statement said.

A Sony statement said:  "As we place the utmost importance on the safety and wellbeing of our customers, partners, media and employees, we have taken the difficult decision to withdraw from exhibiting and participating at MWC 2020 in Barcelona."

The Japanese group has maintained an internet news conference on February 24th however to present its new products.

LG, which normally has one of the biggest stands, said last week that its 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."   

The company plans instead hold separate events to unveil its new mobile products.

Who is going to be there then?

Shenzhen-based ZTE, which makes smartphones and wireless networking equipment, and Huawei have said they still plan to attend, along with compatriots Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi.

Other major trade shows have also been hit by the virus, with Swiss watch maker Swatch cancelling a salon in March and the biennial Singapore Airshow reporting the loss of more than 70 participants, including US group Lockheed Martin and Bombardier of Canada.   

What are organisers doing to ease fears?

The MWC is a major date on tech company calendars and normally draws more than 100,000 people from all over the world to see the latest innovations and gadgets from 2,800 exhibitors.

The mobile trade association GSMA that organises the congress said Sunday it was taking drastic precautions this year to ease concerns that it could become a hub for the virus to spread.

To date, more than 40,000 people have been infected and more than 900 have died.

The Barcelona congress will be off limits to anyone from the Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus first broke out, and visitors from other parts of China will have to show they have been outside the country for two weeks before arriving in Spain.

Daily disinfection? 

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

Senior executives taking part in "high-level meetings" at the gathering "will self-isolate themselves in Europe for at least two weeks prior to the MWC," a ZTE statement added.

The company plans to showcase new 5G devices this year.   

Huawei staff, including executives, have also arrived two weeks early and isolated themselves in their hotels, a company spokesman told AFP. 

 A GSMA statement said: "We are grateful for the preventative measures our Chinese exhibitors have put in place, notably ZTE and Huawei."   

Meanwhile, personnel will be on hand to take visitors' temperatures.   

And all attendees will be advised to not shake hands while microphones will be disinfected and changed between speakers.

Spain has not declared a health emergency and only two cases of coronavirus have been detected in the country so far, one in the Canary Islands and one on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca.

"Everything will be done to ensure the participant's peace of mind," Barcelona Mayor Jaume Collboni told Antena 3 television.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez added that security measures to guarantee the well-being of participants had been taken.   

GSMA said it has "implemented many measures to help to mitigate the spread of the virus and is continuing to add other actions regularly."



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Anonymous 2020/02/11 00:07
Is that your reporter wearing the mask for ‘effect’? I was at Son Espases all morning today and saw no one wearing a mask. Quite unnecessary. The man with the virus is isolated.

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