Mobile World Congress canceled amid coronavirus fears

Several tech companies had officially withdrawn their presence.

February 12, 2020, 2:40 PM

The coronavirus, declared a global health emergency, has led to the cancellation of one of the most-attended yearly global tech conferences, Mobile World Congress.

'With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, 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," the Global System for Mobile Communications Assocation said via a press release. "The GSMA and the host city partners will continue to be working in unison and supporting each other for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions. Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world."

MWC, held each year in Barcelona, Spain, drew 109,674 attendees last year and is a destination for the most prominent tech companies in the world. The conference's cancellation comes after several of these companies officially withdrew from the event which had been scheduled for Feb. 24 to 27, citing concerns over coronavirus.

"We’ve informed GSMA, the organizers of MWC Barcelona, that we won’t be sending our employees to this year’s event," Nvidia, one of the tech exhibitors at MWC, wrote in a blog post. "Given public health risks around the coronavirus, ensuring the safety of our colleagues, partners and customers is our highest concern."

Other tech companies that pulled out of the conference include Facebook, Amazon, Intel, LG, Sony, Vivo and Ericsson.

In an email to ABC News, a Facebook company spokesperson confirmed the social media giant's decision to skip this year's MWC.

"Out of an abundance of caution, Facebook employees won’t be attending this year’s Mobile World Congress due to the evolving public health risks related to coronavirus. We will continue to collaborate with the GSMA and our partners and thank them for their efforts." A source at Facebook said that while the risk from coronavirus is low, the potential impact is too high to put the company's teams at risk.

A passenger wearing a mask and covered with a plastic bag walks outside the Shanghai railway station in Shanghai, as the country is hit by an outbreak of a new coronavirus, Feb. 9, 2020.
Aly Song/Reuters, FILE

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

"The safety and wellbeing of all our employees and partners is our top priority, and we have withdrawn from this year’s Mobile World Congress out of an abundance of caution. We are grateful to the GSMA for their understanding and look forward to attending and supporting future Mobile World Congress events," an Intel spokesperson told ABC News in another emailed statement.

LG announced its withdrawal from MWC via a blog post on its website dated Feb. 5. "With the safety of its employees, partners and customers foremost in mind, LG has decided to withdraw from exhibiting and participating in MWC 2020 later this month...." the post read.

Cisco Systems took to Twitter to announce that it would not be at MWC.

"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, Spain," was the statement from Sony.

Vivo, a China-based tech company also confirmed with ABC News that it would not attend MWC.

"Vivo has been closely monitoring the Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia (NCP) outbreak and continuously evaluating planned activities. The health and safety of our employees and the public are our top priority. Based on the present situation, we have decided to withdraw from our debut at MWC 2020 and other related events later this month in Barcelona, Spain," a Vivo spokesperson stated in an email.

There were calls across social media for MWC to go on, some of which come from industry analysts who attend the event every year.

"I think MWC should go on and I will be attending. I also feel that as media, even if MWC is cancelled, there might still be enough pre-show press events happening that might still be worth going. I believe that with the right (and current -- pretty drastic, IMO) precautions, MWC can still happen safely," tech industry consultant and host of the Mobile Tech Podcast, Myriam Joire, told ABC News in a message.

On Twitter, longtime leading mobile tech analyst Sascha Segan urged the MWC organizers to not "give into hysteria."

Yet, a contingency of voices opposed the event being held. One online petition is called for MWC's postponement.

The global death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak -- 1,115 is the most recent figure -- has already surpassed that of the SARS epidemic. All but one of the deaths have occurred in China. The only death from the outbreak outside of China was in the Philippines.

Since the first cases were detected back in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, China's National Health Commission said Tuesday that it has recorded a total of 44,730 confirmed coronavirus cases. There are at least 441 cases confirmed in 24 other countries, according to the World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

ABC News' Morgan Winsor and Erin Schumaker contributed to this report.

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