Mobile World Congress 2020 cancelled after firms pull out amidst virus outbreak

In an unprecedented move, organisers of Mobile World Congress (MWC) cancelled the event in Barcelona after an exodus of firms in recent weeks due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak. GSM Association (GSMA) said in a statement that the event was axed because the global concern regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, "make it impossible" for the GSMA to hold the event.

The GSMA added that it will continue to work in unison with the host country and support 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," the association added. Among the event's list of sponsors for this year's event include Accenture, Deloitte, Citi, Red Hat, Salesforce, ZTE, Wipro, and ViacomCBS. Since the first edition of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2006, the GSMA has convened the industry, governments, ministers, policymakers, operators and industry leaders across the broader ecosystem.

This comes after a slew of companies withdrew from MWC including Nokia, Sony, Deutsche Telekom, Intel, Amazon, LG, Vivo, Ericsson , Facebook, AT&T, and Nvidia. Deutsche Telekom said in a statement that while it was not an easy decision for the company, the health of its employees and its MWC guests comes first.

HMD Global, manufacturer of Nokia phones, also said the health and safety of its employees, customers, and stakeholders is its highest priority. "We believe the prudent decision is to cancel our participation at Mobile World Congress and want to express our sincere thanks to the GSMA and other authorities for their tireless efforts to address the challenges resulting from COVID-19, and they have our full support as they move forward," the company said.

Meanwhile, Sony said a press conference will now take place on 24 February as a video via its official Xperia YouTube channel. The company also cited the safety and wellbeing of its customers, partners, media and employees as a reason for withdrawing.

The GSMA first issued a statement on 29 January stating that it is monitoring and assessing the potential impact of COVID-19 on this year's MWC events held annually in Barcelona, Shanghai and Los Angeles as well as the Mobile 360 Series of regional conferences. The association previously said it will carefully follow and adhere to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) recommendations, all applicable Chinese government recommendations, all Spanish health authority recommendations and all police/health recommendations and protocols. It also said in subsequent statements that it is monitoring and assessing the potential impact of the virus on its events, as well as listing the measures it has put in place to safeguard attendees.

WHO recently renamed the coronavirus to COVID-19 to prevent stigmatising. CO stands for corona, VI for virus, and D for disease, and 19 is for the year it was first discovered. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the new name also provides a standard format for any future coronavirus outbreaks.

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