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HEALTH

Spain cancels World Mobile Congress amid coronavirus fears

Organisers of the World Mobile Congress have cancelled the world's top mobile trade fair due to fears stemming from the coronavirus that sparked an exodus of industry heavyweights.

Spain cancels World Mobile Congress amid coronavirus fears
Photo: AFP

The mobile fair is one of the biggest events worldwide to be cancelled so far owing to the virus that has killed more than 1,100 people to date.    

The announcement came after the GSMA, the mobile trade association that organises the annual show, met to decide the fate of the event that had been planned to run in Barcelona from February 24-27th.

“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,” a statement said.

It added that the decision was made with “due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country,” and that host city parties understood the cancellation.

READ MORE: 


A woman wearing a mask leaves the hospital in Mallorca where there is one confirmed case. Photo: AFP

Just hours before the meeting took place, Vodafone, Nokia, Deutsche Telekom, Britain's BT and Rakuten of Japan had pulled out, following in the footsteps of Intel, Facebook, Cisco and China's Vivo.

A source close to the event had said that organisers were wary of being left with a cancellation bill of about €100 million ($110 million). They faced resistance from authorities about declaring a health emergency in Spain which would allow insurance to cover the costs.   

So far, Spain has only registered two confirmed cases of infection, on offshore islands.

The annual congress normally draws more than 100,000 people, including between 5,000 and 6,000 participants from China, organisers say.    

But this year, participation was hammered by the viral outbreak which has infected around 44,600 people.

'Working for months for nothing'

The decision is certain to be a major blow for Barcelona, as the huge trade show was forecast to bring in almost €500 million, organisers said.    

“It's the high point of the year,” said Ignacio Arias, manager of the AC Som Marriott hotel which lies very close to the venue where the conference has been held since 2006.

“During the four days of the congress, the hotel is fully occupied with the highest rates of the year. There's no other week like it,” he said, with his words echoed by fellow hoteliers.

“We were supposed to host the team assembling Sony's stand but they haven't turned up. Ericsson has cancelled 30 rooms, and Intel and LG have cancelled their meeting rooms,” said the manager of another nearly hotel who did not
want to give her name.   

“It feels like we've been working for months for nothing. This year has been pretty sluggish so far and this is just going to finish us off.”    

Ride-sharing firms were also on edge.    

“This period accounts for 20 percent of our yearly income,” said Jose Maria Goni who runs Unauto, a fleet of vehicles for hire with drivers.   

Trade shows have been hit by the virus on several continents, and while Asia's biggest airshow in Singapore went forward nonetheless, more than 70 exhibitors cancelled.

'Epidemic of fear'

The cancellations began on February 4th when South Korea's LG Electronics, which occupies one of the largest spaces at the show, said it was pulling out to “remove the risk of exposing hundreds of LG employees to international travel… as the virus continues to spread across borders”.   

With the exception of Apple, most major smartphone manufacturers typically present their new products and innovations at the congress.   

Before the cancellation, China's top smartphone maker Huawei as well as its smaller rival ZTE, had pledged their executives and staff would undergo a self-imposed two-week quarantine period, while ZTE said its stand and equipment would be disinfected daily.   

The organisers had also sought to reassure exhibitors, saying they would step up security measures, impose restrictions on visitors from China and have staff on hand to take visitors' temperatures.

But it wasn't enough, and the trickle of withdrawals quickly turned into a deluge with dozens of companies pulling out of the show.   

Regional health minister Alba Verges tried in vain to reassure participants on Wednesday, saying that the only epidemic in Barcelona “is an epidemic of fear”

By AFP's Daniel Bosque

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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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