For this year’s Mobile World Congress show, the event organizers admonished attendees to follow the no-handshake policy, which would be quite a sight to see for visiting executives in slipping into the bubble of conversation and impress potential customers. Event organizers are also extra cautious with the overall cleanliness of the venue, with taking steps with doubling up efforts with cleaning up, disinfecting and ensuring no microphone were used twice from different speakers. These measures ensure everybody was satisfactorily having the night but also be virus-free healthy at the end of the event for those attendees and other companies are still willing to attend, anyway.
Being a major European technology trade fair, MWC hosts networking and lobbying opportunities for mobile industry executives and government officials from across the globe. It’s the world’s biggest wireless industry trade fair that is held in Barcelona, Spain, which is not too far away from the virus outbreak’s Chinese epicenter.
About 100,000 people were expected to attend this year, with around 6% of attendees from China. So far, the coronavirus has now infected more than 31,400 people globally and brought death to more than 630, most of them in China.
Among the companies who completely backed out from the event include Sweden’s Ericsson, a major supplier of telecom infrastructure gear and one of the biggest exhibitors; South Korean tech company LG; other small Chinese companies based in Wuhan, China, where the virus first emerged.
“Ericsson has thousands of visitors in its hall each day and even if the risk is low, the company cannot guarantee the health and safety of its employees and visitors,” the company said.
Jean-Baptiste Su, principal analyst at Atherton Research in San Jose, California, decided not to attend because of virus worries. “I just didn’t want to take a chance. It’s that bad.”
Other companies and personalities scaled their plans down a notch for extra caution and quarantine measures. For one, Chinese tech powerhouse Huawei, which is also a major sponsor, is assigning European staff to the show.
Another is Eric Xu, serving a 6-month term as a rotating chairman, instead of personally showing decided to rely on a media briefing by video due to him also undergoing a two-week self-quarantine period.
Su said many participants were coming from China, and “we don’t know much about how the transmission of the virus works.” He added that people he knows at big Silicon Valley companies are “on the fence” about attending, and their employers say it’s OK if they don’t want to.
With the virus pandemic scaring many attendees and major hosting companies, organizers and local authorities could have very well been pulling their hair out in keeping the event together and containing worries about the virus this week.
However, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau assured MWC will go ahead “in a completely normal way” despite the virus and cancelations.
“I hope there are no more announcements like those by Ericsson and LG,” Colau told Catalan television channel TV3 on Friday. “I am told that all necessary precautions are being taken” so that the event can be held as safely as possible, she added.
Mats Granryd, director general of the GSMA, told The Associated Press on Wednesday, before Ericsson’s announcement, that he doesn’t “foresee this (as) more than a sort of a blip.”
Microsoft said its plans to participate remain the same for now. “The safety of our employees is a top priority and we will evaluate the situation and adjust plans as necessary.”